India’s goods trade numbers for February and March 2023 have been revised by over $10 billion from initial estimates, and the overall export-import figures for last year have been scaled down by around $3 billion dollars each, with experts flagging petroleum shipments as the main driver for the extraordinarily high revisions of recent export data.
While exports were earlier reckoned to have grown 6% in 2022-23 to hit $447.46 billion, that number has now been pared to $444.4 billion, reflecting a 5.3% rise from 2021-22. The import bill for last year has also been scaled down from $714.24 billion to $711.85 billion, indicating a growth of 16.1%. The trade deficit for the year has risen 40.8% to $267.45 bn, slightly higher than the 40% estimated earlier.
For February, goods exports have been revised higher by almost $3.1 billion from the initial estimate of $33.9 billion to about $37 billion. The month’s import bill was raised by over $1.93 billion, the second-highest upward revision for a month, after a $3.08 billion uptick from December’s initial estimate.
For March, by contrast, exports seem to have been scaled down by $3.03 billion from the initial $38.38 billion estimate to $35.35 billion, translating into a sharp 20.7% dip year-on-year, pegging outbound shipments’ value at almost the same level as March 2021. Imports for the last month of 2022-23 have also been revised downward by around $2.4 billion to $55.72 billion.
“Data revisions amounting to over $500 million a month are not normal, but we have been seeing significantly higher revisions over the past year and a half compared to the period before that,” Vivek Kumar, economist at QuantEco Research told The Hindu.
Interestingly, the revisions in the export numbers are largely dominated by changes in the figures for petroleum exports, Mr. Kumar said. The revisions in core export items or segments like gems and jewellery have been insignificant by contrast.
That India’s oil imports from Russia went up after the Ukraine conflict may be part of the trigger for the fluctuating petroleum trade numbers. However, Mr. Kumar pointed out that the sharp revisions on the petroleum exports front had begun four-five months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.
“It is very puzzling and raises uncertainty on the outlook for India’s current account deficit and thereby rupee. With average monthly upward revision in net trade deficit to the tune of $1.5 billion, the cumulative for the year could add up to $18 billion. Such sizeable revision in trade deficit data turns analysis somewhat challenging,” the economist said.
“One would appreciate greater understanding of the trigger for the higher data revisions in recent months and the context for greater concentration of these revisions in the petroleum sector,” he stressed.