Natural resources have always been the moot point for many a conflict and have tempted Kings and kingdoms into conflicts and wars since ages. A quick journey across our history would be enough to realise that the mightiest regimes have made planned moves to conquer natural resources – be it precious minerals, radioactive elements, energy resources, drugs, water or even human power. Talking about modern history, countries like US, UK and other Western powers have invaded nations in search of human slaves to natural gas.

Amidst all this, the bad news is that the era of cheap natural resources is definitely far gone. Natural resources and illegal occupation are very closely linked together; yet the correlation is largely ignored. The one time champion and monopolist nation of natural resources today is finding it expensive to explore its own natural wealth and is rather depending on imports. As per the US Geological Survey, 2011, United States imports 93 per cent of its antimony and 100 per cent of its bauxite and indium, 50 per cent of its lithium, and astonishingly, 100 percent of its rare earth metals. In just two decades, the tables seem to have turned completely. Two decades ago, China was the largest oil exporter, and today it’s one of the largest importers. So much so that China’s consumption of essential metals has doubled in the last 10 years and is expected to double again in the next few years. Today, against all the odds, China has made its presence unshakeable in most of the Latin American and African nations. I have, in some of my previous editorials, written on how China is completely into Africa in all economic and non-economic sectors. And why not! Latin America and Africa are precisely the two continents, which still have enough natural resources to meet the global demands for years to come, and to make any country controlling these resources economically powerful for years to come. For instance, in 2007, China bought a 15,000 feet mountain in Peru for a whopping $3 billion. Mount Toromocho, which is spread across 138 km, has proved to be one of the most productive copper mines in the world and is reaping a profit that is almost 2000 per cent of the initial investment.

China is not leaving out promising opportunities even outside these two continents. China has recently signed a “laptops for pork” deal with Canada which will allow China to become a prominent player in the meat industry in no time. Simultaneously, China is exploring opportunities to make it big in the fertilizer industry. China, a few years ago, mobilised its state-owned enterprises to bid for PotashCorp (POT), the Canadian fertilizer giant which is the largest producer of potash and third largest producer of phosphate and nitrogen.

On a closer look, the entire resource-grab spree would reveal a couple of interesting and economically-intelligent strategies. China is tapping into the resources of those nations that are relatively weaker. In other words, they are entering nations that are politically weak and have poor governance (including India).

Moreover, these are precisely those nations where the West had never paid heed and had left them to their own fate. Various nations of Latin America, which were subjugated by the West through sanctions and regular invasions, and Africa where the West only went with an objective of plundering and looting, are the prime-interest areas of China. The dragon nation is offering countries in these geographies trade offers that are more than lucrative. Not only is China commercialising their dead industries but is also allowing them to develop support infrastructure. In any case, it’s a win-win situation for China from both the ends! Such deals give them free access to hinterlands and hidden resources and the support infrastructure removes the transportation bottlenecks too. Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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Joseph R. Biden Jr. just became the first US Vice President to visit India in three decades. While India considers this to be a proof of its popularity and widespread influence, there is The People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) proving us all wrong. PLA crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into India for the nth time this year alone! That China is bullying India has become more a common headline these days – and during a time when India is busy with some ineffective verbal tactics to cajole and persuade its adamant, powerful neighbour. But all along, we’ve seen China adopting the carrot and stick approach while dealing with our nation. How have we reacted? Actually, the more pertinent question is – have we?

History stands testimony to the fact that India – more often than not – chooses to sit back and take the blow (or many blows-after-many!) than being proactive in its foreign policy. Is there a wiser justification to the fact that even a much smaller (and weaker perhaps) State like Pakistan has dared to wage war with us as many as four times in the last 65 years. Today, it even executes terror acts in our country. Still our authorities choose to remain still and silent! There is no question of meeting the Pakistani Head of State eye-to-eye! And presently, with great camaraderie between China and Pakistan, the two foreign forces are working hard to make their fellowship count – against their common neighbor. The two have in recent times only magnified India’s external and internal security concerns and are literally toying with India’s perception of xenophobia! And China isn’t just the only culprit – Pakistan is enjoying giving the “poke” too. If China has displayed open disregard for the sanctity of LAC, Pakistan is flouting cross-border ethics in Chimur and Ladakh.

That the United States is increasingly feeling the heat from China – whose ambition clearly is to eclipse US as a global geopolitical and economic superpower – is a fact unknown to only a few. Under such a circumstance, US wants to cook a potion to neutralise the Chinese poison. There is also deep resentment in America regarding Pakistan, as time and again it has come to public light that the country covertly works against the interest of US and its people. From giving shelter to Osama bin Laden to becoming a haven for a host of small and large, organized and unorganised terror groups, like the Haqqani network (that engages in asymmetric war against US-led NATO forces and the government of Afghanistan and is said to have tremendous support from influential elements within the Pakistani security establishment), US is increasingly finding Pakistan an unmanageable rogue State.  Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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India had been one of the fastest growing economies till early 2011. For almost half a decade before that, along with China, India was clocking over 8 per cent GDP growth annually and talks among analysts were ripe that India, along with its neighbour, would spearhead Asia’s rise in the new world order of the 21st century. However, things have gone awfully wrong for us ever since! The growth rate has kept plummeting, ebbing now at less than 5 per cent in the previous financial year; even till date, there is little light at the end of the tunnel. Two of the foremost reasons for such bottoming out are dried up investments and a rising current account deficit, which are becoming worse with each passing year as the burden of the global slowdown becomes heavier. While our current account deficit has reached a record 4.8% of GDP in FY 2012-13, as per a recent chamber of commerce report, new investment proposals from domestic and foreign entrepreneurs have dried up by 75% as compared to the previous year. As compared to 2,828 investment proposals in the fiscal year 2011-12 worth Rs.6 lakh crore, the figure in FY 2012-13 was 697 proposals worth Rs.1.4 lakh crore.

Ever since the liberalization era of early 1990s, Indian lawmakers had been obsessed with foreign investments and foreign capital, as if foreign companies were the panacea for our economy and ultimate messiahs to move our economy forward. And hence, the potential of our domestic capital and investments was thoroughly ignored. The domestic financial infrastructure in terms of developing an indigenous credit market was given a cold shoulder and all policy weight was put behind attracting foreign investments. Critics were silenced with the argument that emphasis is given on FDIs and not FIIs – as the latter had been a major catalyst for the infamous South East Asian economic collapse back in the late nineties. Our policy advisers, who are mostly accustomed to aping tried and tested economic doctrines instead of formulating something that is country specific to India’s economic environment and culture, couldn’t see the danger lurking. As global recession set in to full effect, the automatic depletion of FDI was a foregone conclusion. And as we had been over dependent on foreign investments – and thus had kept our indigenous credit infrastructure half-baked – there were no defenses against our economy flattening!  Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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The opening of the first Starbucks outlet in South Mumbai in October last year triggered quite some frenzy among Mumbaikars, with long queues of venti-mocha-frap verve translating into a major rock concert hysteria. And it was all for a coffee shop! Imagine the burst of marketing energy from Starbucks to take advantage of this excitement. Within five months of opening its first outlet, four each were opened in Mumbai and Delhi (taking the footprint of the coffee chain to nine outlets in India). It reminded me of the kind of madness that was witnessed during the launch of Pepsi and the relaunch of Coke in India, way back in the early 1990s. Here’s the simple truth – our craze for foreign brands has never ceased, despite our progress in almost all dimensions of socio-economic parameters. Why? Because as a nation, experience has taught us that our brands have never quite had the gumption of American, British, European or even Japanese brands. The halo was and is missing. This lack of unique proposition in our brands is due to the shoddy products and services offered in the name of Indian brands!

In this new age of globalisation, our brands need to compete globally and not just nationally. In the past, so many Indian brands – from the Ambassadors to the Vimals – were whipped and almost but sent off packing when foreign brands came knocking. These foreign brands piggybacked on their global popularity and our lack of expertise due to substandard innovation. If India has to reverse the ongoing trend of the influx of foreign brands into its market, it has to invest on innovation on a large scale, and frame and implement comprehensive policies to support innovation.

The low count of patent applications that is filed in India is some warning. In 2011, only 42,291 patent applications were filed in India. China on the other hand saw 526,412 applications being filed – highest in the world that year, followed by US with 503,582 applications (source: World Intellectual Property Indicators 2012, released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation; December 2012). In the Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking 2012, India stood at a dismal 64th – two spots below where it stood in 2011! Shameful it is that India, in terms of GII ranking is last amongst the BRICs. No wonder, a June 2012 Standard & Poor’s report revised its outlook for the Indian economy and warned that India could become the first amongst all BRIC countries to lose its sheen! [The S&P report was titled, ‘Will India Be The First BRIC Fallen Angel?’] It is disheartening to observe that despite Sam Pitroda’s efforts to pump life into India’s innovation machine, and PM Manmohan Singh’s call to promote India as an “Innovation hub”, the country is still largely seen as a “screwdriver nation”, only capable of assembling together parts of foreign-branded products. Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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Just a couple of months back, the entire global media fraternity was talking about the next probable war between China and Japan over the issue of a small group of islands in the East China Sea. Just when people thought that the issue was cooling down, last month, a delegation of former US officials submitted a report to Hillary Clinton that the dispute could spin out of control and result into a military confrontation; add to that China’s recently declared intentions to deploy marine surveillance drones to track maritime activity around the cluster of islands from where the conflict originated. The entire issue is certainly far from over, with both the nations in no mood to step back.

There is, of course, nothing new in the conflict between Japan and China. Through centuries, these two Asian neighbours have been brutal to each other – politically, economically and militarily. The Japanese monarchy before World War II was notable for their imperialistic intentions – they invaded China in 1931 to mark the beginning of a violent, 14-year occupation of the land, finally retreating only after the World War II reversals in 1945. However, in the post-World War geopolitics, the foreign policy trajectory between the two nations has swapped its direction. Since the past few decades, Japan has sought to maintain a nice-guy image, while on the other hand, China has wanted to treat Japan slightingly. Japan’s cooperative and accommodative foreign policy acted as a silver bullet for its economy, which saw an unprecedented growth from 1950s till 1980s. That period saw Japan barging into the elite club of developed nations (the only Asian country to accomplish the feat then) and becoming a part of G-7, or the seven most industrialized states in the world. That’s a remarkable accomplishment, considering the fact that this was the same country that had literally been reduced to ruins in the Second World War and also the fact that none of its Asian counterparts could mirror Japan’s subsequent economic achievements. China, like Japan, started a new journey from 1949, when the Mao Tse Tung-led Communist Party of China overran the country and gained control on its governance. But unlike Japan, China, in the first three decades, emphasized largely on a military buildup. Amidst this journey of these two Asian giants, one thing represented permanency – that these two nations won’t walk hand in hand.

Interestingly, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party had promised before the 2009 election that Japan would be more muscular in its foreign policy and had hinted then on a shift from being a US-backed nation to being one with a more Far East integration, including with China. However, that didn’t happen. The recent happenings have in fact worsened the situation. The first, significant barrage came from the Japanese government in early September 2012, when they revealed their intentions to purchase three disputed islands in East China Sea – a move that led to their fragile relationship with China nose-diving in no time. China pledged to thwart Japan’s intentions, and in response, sent three fishery surveillance ships to the territorial waters near Senkaku, the group of islands in contention. In return, Japan adopted an aggressive foreign policy stance and announced that they would take the Chinese bull by the horn – by mid September, Japan had officially bought the islands.  Read more....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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So the fiery and often unpredictable “Didi” of Indian politics, Mamata Banerjee is all set to do what many felt was inevitable. Even as I write this, I honestly don’t know if the Trinamool Congress will actually walk out of the UPA or not. Nor do I know how Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Karunanidhi will act. Some friends tell me that the countdown to the end of this UPA regime has begun and that it is a matter of time before the Manmohan Singh government falls without completing its full term. Some other friends tell me that the Congress has legendary “management” skills in this field and will ride out of the storm. They point out to how a minority Manmohan Singh government won the trust vote in 2008 and how a minority P.V. Narashima Rao government won the trust vote in 1992.

I really don’t believe that the survival-or-not of the UPA government is the most significant problem confronting India at this time. I think the real problem and the real challenge is the direction that economic policy making is taking in the country. Let us look at the grievances publicly aired by Mamata Banerjee. She has slammed the UPA government as being anti-people and is convinced that the diesel price hike, the rationing of LPG cylinders and allowing FDI in multi-brand retail will harm the common man of India. If they are actually harmful for common Indians, then I am all for the stance taken by Didi.

The thing is, I have repeatedly said that India is awash with unnecessary and unsustainable subsidies. I have repeatedly said that we have to both reduce and eliminate subsidies that often end up being gobbled up by the rich instead of the poor for which they are meant. So in principle, I would tend to agree with a reduction of subsidies for both diesel and LPG. But the problem is the manner in which this UPA government has been behaving since 2009. It has been so brazenly practising crony capitalism that nobody believes it when it talks about good intentions. Let me just give one example of how the common Indian views this latest LPG controversy. The latest decision stipulates that a family will be entitled to just one subsidized LPG cylinder every two months. Any cylinders required beyond this limit need to be purchased at market prices. The government claims that an average family uses one cylinder every two months. That is absolute nonsense. An average family almost always uses one LPG cylinder every month. Worse, this arbitrary decision – given the famed ability of Indians to indulge in corruption – will lead to massive black marketing. Already, when people are calling for booking an LPG refill, dealers are claiming that they have no stock. Of course, the stock is there if you want to buy at black market rates. This is taking India back to the notorious days of rationing where rice, sugar, cooking oil, cement, phone connections and Bajaj scooters were always out of stock but available to those who had enough money to pay black market rates. This is not reforms or a forward moving decision. It is downright regressive. Why can’t the government find a way to ensure that those who can afford will pay market prices for LPG? We have had the UIAD project going on since 2009. Of what use is so much expense on it if we can’t solve even the simple problem of targeting subsidies to those who really deserve them?   Read More....

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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This editorial comes at this crucial juncture when the ruling government and the opposition (that includes some Congress allies in the government too) have locked horns over the entry of foreign private players in the retail segment. The debate was imperative as the retail industry has always been considered as the nervous system of any nation, and this industry has in most of the cases even helped nations revive themselves during bad times. So it was interesting to evaluate the entire debate from an analytical dimension as well. Currently, the organized retail in India is only 2 per cent of the retail industry; clearly, a huge opportunity is waiting to be unleashed. The opportunity can be gauged from the fact that the American organized retail market is 80 per cent of the overall retail market, Thailand is at 40 per cent and China at 20 per cent! If on one hand organised retail is a global reality, then on the other, the Indian middle class has the given power to splurge, making the proposition viable. Then why is there a protest? The fact is that the ongoing nationwide protests against foreign entry in retail are a bit too late, too baseless and based more on a campaign by emotionally charged political parties which lack pragmatism. After allowing FDI everywhere else, why at all these recent dramatics against retail? Every government in the past has made deals and allowed FDI to enter systematically into India without a plan in place to make Indian firms competitive beforehand. We systematically ruined Indian competitiveness; yet, now for publicity, are creating a hullaballoo against the opening up of retail. The fact is, FDI in retail is inevitable. And not that there are no benefits.

If things go right, then the entry of foreign firms in the long run should benefit the overall economy by subsuming farmers, producers of finished goods, creating mass scale employment, increasing government revenue and hopefully cleansing the muck that lies in our storage and distribution. If all falls into place, then organized retail market is then expected to reach approximately $260 billion by 2020. It would augment income levels of all stakeholders to the tune of $35-45 billion a year, new employment generation to the tune of 3-4 million directly and 4-6 million indirectly. With foreign multinationals setting up shop across the country, the government exchequer would likely bloat up by $25-30 billion per year. The Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are likely to prosper too and learn the concepts of enhanced production, higher productivity, assured supply, quick payment and better quality. It will further boost the organized sector growth – a sector that is already growing at an impressive 24 per cent in the last 3 years. The retail sector would also increase the farmers’ income – who at the current stage are on the threshold of marginal living at best or on the verge of committing suicides at the worst. So, of course, it is inevitable for India to allow FDI in retail and the writing on the wall is also very clear. But amongst all this, almost everyone is missing out one moot question, which is fundamental to the success of the Indian retail story.

Amongst other clauses that the government has put, one interesting clause is that these large retailers have to essentially source their supplies from the small and medium enterprises to the tune of 30 percent. But then, this is a universal clause and does not essentially mean that it is the Indian SME segment that is going to benefit from the same. And this is where we have our biggest threat. The question is: would Indians take pride to pick up Indian brands from these stores? The bigger question is: do we have enough Indian brands which can stock the shelves of these monstrous giant outlets? In fact the entire debate of organized retail short-changing the farmers and producers is all baseless, simply because retail survives finally on what sells. And if Indian producers and manufacturers are able to produce brands which are in demand, then they definitely would get shelf space. It is no secret that more than 60 per cent of what Walmart sells in the US is sourced from China. The same holds true for the Tescos and the Carrefours of the world.

The British always prefer home-grown apples over imported ones, especially the Cox variety; and thus the retailers are seen selling the domestic varieties more than the imported varieties. In order to avoid mass resistance, it is general practice that many luxury brands take their goods for finishing to their home nation and then tag the product as a domestic output. In this light, a survey by Harrison Group showed that around 65 per cent of rich American consumers buy ‘domestically made’ products whenever possible. Japanese too prefer the products to be finally processed at local units than to be imported finished goods. This is true for most of the east-Asian nations. To some extent, American companies such as GM and Chrysler were bailed out because they represented Americanism – evident from the way these are used in American movies – of course, apart from other economic reasons. As recent as in August 2011, the South Korean tobacco association campaigned against Japanese products; and in October, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked the government to purchase only domestically produced goods and requested the President to ban foreign items in the nation if the same were being produced by local companies.
 
In fact, with respect to national pride, the best case in point is South Korea. It’s perhaps the country I appreciate the most throughout the world; more than China, more than Japan.When compared to India, it is a dot of a nation, but thanks to their sense of national pride, they have made unprecedented strides in all sectors. South Korean schools promote usage of local-brand purchases among students and a criticism to this is perceived as criticism to the nation. In spite of worldwide success, Nokia and Blackberry are still not able to gain substantial market-share in South Korea and Samsung Electronics dominates the market with over 48 per cent market share. In fact, the Republic of Samsung (as it is popularly called) touches almost every aspect of life in South Korea. Google has merely 20 per cent market share in South Korea while domestic search engines namely Naver and Daum dominate 90 per cent market share. In automobiles, the top car brands are either from Kia or Hyundai or SsangYong, which out-compete the BMWs and Mercs of the world. On the roads of Seoul, spotting an American or a Japanese car is a total rarity – and I am saying this from the personal experience of trying to estimate the ratio! It’s not that the Korean cars look bad or are of bad quality. They look stunning and each one is better than the other. So the fact is that consumers don’t buy their national products by sacrificing quality. The government policies were such that the local manufacturers were given all the support and a very competitive environment to improve quality by competing locally – unlike in India where we opened up our markets like cheats allowing the legacy Ambassadors to compete against the snazzy then post-modern Hondas. It was similar to allowing players to compete in the Olympics without having held good quality national games to nurture talent.     Read More....

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