The election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says nothing meaningful on foreign trade or the Goods and Services Tax (GST). It disappoints those looking for serious intent and definite steps to boost exports and reform the GST regime.
The manifesto assures faster customs clearance of international cargo by relaxing clearance procedures, introducing self-declaration, and adopting new scanning technology.
However, these improvements are being pursued by the Customs administration for several years, regardless of the government in power. For example, self assessment was introduced in 2011, direct port delivery in 2009, authorised economic operator scheme in 2012, progressive use of technology several years ago, and so on.
Adequate financial and institutional support for exporters and export organisations to build capacity and equip them with adequate information for unhindered exports is another point on the agenda. By all accounts, it is not the lack of information that hinders exports.
The challenge is to process the information and come up with insights — something export promotion councils are trying. Of course, more can be done, but finance is not the constraint for doing that. The manifesto promises to work to reduce agricultural imports, and institute a predictable export and import policy, with a built-in mechanism to encourage exports.
Such a simplistic and mercantilist approach betrays the inability to grapple with complexities to ensure availability of agricultural commodities, maintaining price levels in the domestic markets, conflicting expectations of producers and consumers, etc.
Doubling the total exports by 2022 is one of the aspirations of the manifesto. But, there is no road map to boost competitiveness to attain it. The same ambitious target was laid down for the current Foreign Trade Policy period. But, exports in 2018-19 are at the same level as they were in 2013-14.
What factors have been identified and what actions are proposed to boost exports now? The manifesto has nothing to say. So, its statement to double the exports sounds hollow and should be treated as nothing more than mere words with no intent.
The BJP says the GST has resulted in overall lowering of tax rates, and increased revenue collection, particularly for states. Also, the GST revenue for states have increased 50 per cent in three years. If so, what is the need for a compensation cess? Will it be abolished? What is the way forward? The manifesto is silent.
It merely promises to continue with the simplification of GST process by engaging in dialogue with all stakeholders. It is a positive statement that carries little conviction for want of essential details. Naturally, comparisons have to be drawn between the manifestos of the BJP and that of its main rival, the Congress.
The inescapable conclusion is the Congress manifesto is much more detailed and far better thought out than the BJP’s, at least for boosting exports and reforming the GST regime. It is true not many people read the manifestoes of political parties.
Even so, when a decision is taken to put out a manifesto, it must be done with due respect to anyone who cares to read — something not done by the BJP for foreign trade and the GST. The contrast with the well-crafted Congress’ manifesto is striking.