Experts call move 'protectionist policy' targeted at electronic goods from China
India's move to restrict imports of personal computers is a protectionist policy aimed at curbing imports from China, experts said, noting it is in contrast with Beijing's recent call for BRICS members to cooperate on trade.
On Aug 3, India's Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry imposed import restrictions on laptops, tablets, servers and personal computers with immediate effect. The following day, it was announced that restrictions would not take effect until Nov 1, when no one will be allowed to import devices without a license.
The curbs are seen as aimed at boosting the country's "Make in India" initiative and bringing prices down.
"It is (the) government's objective to ensure trusted hardware and systems, reduce import dependence and increase domestic manufacturing of this category of products," India's Deputy Minister for Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Aug 4.
While the restrictions are not country-specific, most laptops and personal computers sold in India were manufactured or assembled in China.
Last month, Chandrasekhar said India remains open to Chinese investment.
China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao called on BRICS members — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — to strengthen cooperation and uphold multilateralism at a meeting of BRICS trade and economy ministers on Monday.
"China stands ready to take actionable steps to promote cooperation within BRICS in the areas of trade and economy," Wang said at the virtual meeting, which was also attended by India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal.
Saikat Sinha Roy, an economist from Jadavpur University in West Bengal, said Wang's comment is significant in the context of India restricting computer imports, and it is important for both countries to cooperate given their trade complementarity.
Import restrictions will see prices rise, Roy said, and the quality of products might be adversely affected.
Import restrictions might be detrimental to the Indian economy, Roy said, adding that protecting the domestic market will leave foreign investors reluctant to invest in India.
Wang's remarks are welcome and in tune with India's own efforts, said Swaran Singh, a professor of international relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
While each country has its priorities, strengths and challenges, BRICS members can surely explore new areas for their expanded cooperation given the shared spirit of expanding mutual trade and commerce, Singh said.
Lawrence Loh, director of the National University of Singapore's Centre for Governance and Sustainability, said countries must uphold the interests of their people in adequate consumer choices and good prices.
"They should respect free trade and uphold free markets — protectionist measures will not help in economic development, especially in the challenging global economic setting beset by high inflation," he said.
Even if there are short-term benefits to any form of import restrictions, the long-term consequence will be the loss of global competitiveness because of economic suboptimization, he said.
"Geopolitical tensions should not get in the way of trade and economic growth."
India's trade deficit with China touched $71.6 billion in the first 10 months of 2022-23, just $1.7 billion short of the record-high of $73.3 billion in 2021-22, according to data shared by India's Commerce Ministry in March.