Of the 30 major product groups, 20 were in positive territory in January, against 21 in December.
On the other hand, the figures made clear that India is set to overshoot in 2017-18 the $380.36 billion import bill of the previous financial year.
The pace of imports continued to quicken for the third straight month, leading to inbound shipments in January rising by 26.10 per cent, higher than the 21.1 per cent rise in the previous month.
This makes the cumulative import bill for the first 10 months of the current financial year $379 billion.
Source: Ministry of Commerce & Industry
The trade deficit widened to a 56-month high of $16.3 billion in January, against the $14.9 billion deficit in December and $9.91 billion registered a year ago in January 2017.
In this financial year, the deficit increased to $131.14 billion till January, against the $114.9 billion in the corresponding period in the previous year.
The deficit was fed by a huge rise in oil imports, which shot up by more than 42 per cent in January to $11.65 billion after the 34.9 per cent rise in the previous month.
However, gold imports slipped by 22.07 per cent to $1.59 billion after the 71.5 per cent jump in the previous month.
The dip in gold imports was more than offset by higher imports of silver, pearls, and precious and semi-precious stones, said Aditi Nayar, principal economist, Icra.
Non-oil and non-gold imports, taken as a sign of industrial demand, rose 24.43 per cent in January, after rising 12.9 per cent in December. This implies that the recent, strong pickup in industrial production may continue over the coming months. Index of industrial production growth in December stood at 7.1 per cent.
A sizeable chunk of India’s major export segments, including refinery products, saw a faster growth rate of 39.5 per cent in January, against the 25.15 per cent rise in December.
Pharmaceuticals rose 8.6 per cent from 6.95 per cent in December and organic and inorganic chemicals by 33.6 per cent from 31.36 per cent in the previous month.
However, major segments saw a reduction in growth rates. They are engineering goods, which grew 15.77 per cent in January, compared to 25.32 per cent in December, as well as gems and jewellery, which rose 0.89 per cent from 2.38 per cent in December.
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced in the Budget the government hoped exports would grow 15 per cent in the current financial year. Till January, India’s cumulative merchandise shipments in 2017-18 reached more than $246 billion.
“With the merchandise trade deficit in January being sharply higher than expected, we have revised our forecast for the 2017-18 current account deficit to $47-50 billion, or nearly 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), from the earlier expectation of $42-44 billion,” Nayar said.
This is the last crucial data before the GDP numbers for the third quarter of 2017-18 and the second Advance Estimates for the current financial year are released at the end of February.