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The China Strategy: Tackling the Growing Trade Deficit with our Industrious Neighbours

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By Pradyut Hande:

It was not more than a decade ago that industry experts, policy formulators and other extraneous potential stakeholders attempted to convince the Government to embrace a more proactive strategy with regards to engaging the Chinese in greater trade. Over time, both the Asian behemoths have embarked on their individual trajectories of socio-economic progression. We may have our fair share of differences — political, ideological, economic, and military — but undeniable is the fact that a stable strategic relationship with the Chinese is integral to our future growth prospects as a rapidly emerging economy. Set in this backdrop, trade between the two nations has blossomed and China has gradually become India’s biggest trading partner. A measure of this can be gauged from the fact that trade with China has boomeranged almost 160% to amount to USD 24 Billion since 2006-07.

However, a cursory glance at the figures is not liable to paint one a complete picture. While holistic trade over multiple sectors has certainly improved and increased by appreciable levels, India’s trade deficit with China too has also escalated. The trade deficit is the difference between a nation’s exports and imports with a corresponding trade partner nation. While imports of Chinese goods has risen from USD 17.6 Billion in 2006-07 to USD 43.5 Billion in 2010-11, Indian export to China pales in comparison, up from USD 8.3 Billion to USD 19.6 Billion over the same five year period. China accounts for more than a fifth of India’s trade deficit. This escalating trade imbalance has not gone unnoticed and has emerged as a domain of alarm for the incumbent Government. In its endeavour to tackle this growing deficit, the Government is exploring myriad measures.

Amongst the many options the Centre is presently mulling over, imposing higher tariffs on a majority of imported Chinese goods appears to be a viable option. It proposes a blanket ban on specific products such as power and telecom equipment; sectors that are increasingly becoming dependent on Chinese imports at the expense of other domestically or internationally procured equipment and infrastructure. It also postulates that it should be made mandatory for Chinese companies to enter into Joint Ventures (JVs) with their contracted Indian firms prior to the import of heavy equipment and machinery from China; consequently marginally diluting their position of strength that they seemingly enjoy in the present scenario. There is also an increasing likelihood of gradually substituting Chinese goods with those from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as a direct consequence of having to deal with lower tariff barriers.

One must note that the Commerce Ministry hasn’t just drafted a modified “China Trade Strategy” overnight. The ever increasing trade deficit has been rightly taken cognizance of and brought to the notice of the concerned authorities as well. Indian officials say that China has openly acknowledged the trade deficit issue but has continued to pursue its seemingly self-serving uni-dimensional ways and consequently, has done precious little to address the pressing situation at hand. In fact, China has shown scant regard for India’s repeated requests and proposals that could have significantly reduced the widening trade gap. Some of the requests include the reduction in import duties on Indian pharmaceuticals, agro produce, IT products, heavy equipment and machinery. China may have promised to look into the matter but as is often their wont, apart from furthering their interests by adopting a carefully calibrated market penetration and consolidation strategy (primarily through the effective albeit frowned upon use of Predatory Pricing), they have failed to take into consideration Indian concerns. Hence, the plainly evident lack of favourable response from China has compelled the Commerce Ministry to draft the fresh proposal in order to counter the increasing trade inequity.

On the face of it, the aforementioned proposals do hold promise. However, a policy remains steeped in inefficacy if it fails to come to fruition. The intricacies of the revised policy ought to take into consideration the inputs from the concerned industries it is most likely to impact — Power and Telecom amongst others — in the long run. Drafting a more comprehensive policy with strategic revisions and obtaining implementation clearance isn’t the only obstacle in the Commerce Ministry’s path though. Experts believe that the increasing dependence on Chinese goods will only make restrictions on their import that much harder. Opposition to the imminent policy change is liable to stem from the Indian industry itself. Additionally, also at a time when the clarion call espousing the multifarious benefits of an open market devoid of amplified Governmental intervention is at its loudest and nations are increasingly entering into Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), India’s interventionary stance to reduce its trade deficit with China maybe perceived as retrogressive by international quarters. So the Government sure has its work cut out on multiple levels, as far as tackling the trade deficit with China is concerned. Proactive policy formulation continues to remain the need of the hour. The question though that needs to be answered is: “Is the Government willing to take tough decisions that may cause a veritable degree of consternation amongst Chinese ranks in the larger scheme of things?”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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