Beginning in the late 1970s, successive Indian governments sought to reduce state control of the economy. Progress toward that goal was slow but steady, and many analysts attributed the stronger growth of the 1980s to those efforts. In the late 1980s, however, India relied on foreign borrowing to finance development plans to a greater extent than before. As a result, when the price of oil rose sharply in August 1990, the nation faced a balance of payments crisis.
The need for emergency loans led the government to make a greater commitment to economic liberalization than it had up to this time. In the early 1990s, India's post-independence development pattern of strong centralized planning, regulation and control of private enterprise, state ownership of many large units of production, trade protectionism, and strict limits on foreign capital was increasingly questioned not only by policy makers but also by most of the intelligentsia.
India's population continues to grow at about 1.8% per year and is estimated at one billion. While its GDP is low in dollar terms, India has the world's 13th-largest GNP. About 62% of the population depends directly on agriculture.
Industry and services sectors are growing in importance and account for 26% and 48% of GDP, respectively, while agriculture contributes about 25.6% of GDP. More than 35% of the population live below the poverty line, but a large and growing middle class of 150-200 million has disposable income for consumer goods.
India embarked on a series of economic reforms in 1991 in reaction to a severe foreign exchange crisis. Those reforms have included liberalized foreign investment and exchange regimes, significant reductions in tariffs and other trade barriers, reform and modernization of the financial sector, and significant adjustments in government monetary and fiscal policies.
The reform process has had some very beneficial effects on the Indian economy, including higher growth rates, lower inflation, and significant increases in foreign investment. Real GDP growth was 6.8% in 1998-99, up from 5% in the 1997-98 fiscal year. Growth in 1999-2000 is expected to be around 6%. Foreign portfolio and direct investment flows have risen significantly since reforms began in 1991 and have contributed to healthy foreign currency reserves ($32 billion in February 2000) and a moderate current account deficit of about 1% (1998-99). India's economic growth is constrained, however, by inadequate infrastructure, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, and high real interest rates. India will have to address these constraints in formulating its economic policies and by pursuing the second generation reforms to maintain recent trends in economic growth.
India's trade has increased significantly since reforms began in 1991, largely as a result of staged tariff reductions and elimination of non-tariff barriers. The outlook for further trade liberalization is mixed. India has agreed to eliminate quantitative restrictions on imports of about 1,420 consumer goods by April 2001 to meet its WTO commitments. On the other hand, the government has imposed "additional" import duties of 5% on most products plus a surcharge of 10% over the past 2 years. The U.S. is India's largest trading partner; bilateral trade in 1998-99 was about $10.9 billion. Principal U.S. exports to India are aircraft and parts, advanced machinery, fertilizers, ferrous waste and scrap metal, and computer hardware. Major U.S. imports from India include textiles and ready-made garments, agricultural and related products, gems and jewelry, leather products, and chemicals.
Significant liberalization of its investment regime since 1991 has made India an attractive place for foreign direct and portfolio investment. The U.S. is India's largest investment partner, with total inflow of U.S. direct investment estimated at $2 billion (market value) in 1999. U.S. investors also have provided an estimated 11% of the $18 billion of foreign portfolio investment that has entered India since 1992. Proposals for direct foreign investment are considered by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board and generally receive government approval. Automatic approvals are available for investments involving up to 100% foreign equity, depending on the kind of industry. Foreign investment is particularly sought after in power generation, telecommunications, ports, roads, petroleum exploration and processing, and mining.
As India moved into the mid-1990s, the economic outlook was mixed. Most analysts believed that economic liberalization would continue, although there was disagreement about the speed and scale of the measures that would be implemented. It seemed likely that India would come close to or equal the relatively impressive rate of economic growth attained in the 1980s, but that the poorest sections of the population might not benefit. 1995 LOC data. Economy of India