Author Archives: Sohrab Darabshaw

India’s solar energy production plan seems to be growing stronger, so much so it has even received global recognition.

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said in a recent report that India was producing the cheapest solar power in the world, the India Times reported.

In 2018, India recorded a 27% decrease in solar prices in 2018, plus a drop of as much as 80% in the setup costs between 2010 and 2018, which, according to IRENA, was the most of any country. Canada, on the other hand, had the highest production cost for this form of energy.

Late last month, a delegation from the European Union visited India and, along with the latter’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, launched standard operation procedures and monitoring tools for Indian solar parks.

India is banking on such solar parks to achieve its target of 100 GW from solar energy by 2022, according to the Press Trust of India. The E.U. and India have been collaborating to develop climate-friendly energy sources, which includes solar energy.

The standard operating procedures were developed under the E.U. program and have been prepared for development, implementation, construction, operation and maintenance of solar parks (including an operation and maintenance manual and a health and safety manual for solar parks), per the Press Trust of India.

In its onward march on the solar energy front, at least 20 global power and renewable energy companies have shown interest in a 7.5 GW solar power park planned in the Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir. Interested companies include: Siemens, ABB, Power Grid, Adani Transmission, BHEL, and L&T Construction, as well as project developers like Hero Future Energies, Mahindra Susten, and Tata Power Solar.

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India’s consistent investments in renewable energy over the last few years have been geared toward meeting its Paris climate agreement commitment to bring 175 GW of renewable energy online by 2022.

India’s retaliatory tariff on 28 U.S. goods, including some finished metal products, has been dubbed the “fruit and nut tax” in trade circles. The facetious label, though, does not take away from the seriousness of the developing situation.

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In India and the U.S., exporters, importers, trade and industry are apprehensive about the turn this fresh step by India will take in the coming days, especially in light of the current U.S.-China trade war.

Will the move by India escalate into a similarly full-blown trade war? Or will it be used as a bargaining chip by the Indian side during the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to India later this month?

Last weekend, the Hindu Business Line reported the Indian government slapped tariffs on 28 U.S. products, including: almonds, apples, chemicals, flat-rolled stainless steel products, other alloy steel, tube, pipe fittings, screws bolts and rivets.

India’s Ministry of Finance said the decision was in the “public interest.”

Technically, it comes in retaliation to America’s imposition of a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% import duty on aluminum products in March 2018. That it took a year or so for India to go ahead with this counter was that despite announcing the counter-tariffs on June 21, 2018, the country had decided to go slow on implementing them for various reasons, one of them being general elections held earlier this year.

So why now?

The answer to that lies in U.S. President Donald Trump’s removing India from the list of nations with preferential trade treatment, just one day after a new government was sworn in in India.

Questions are already been asked in India – will the country lose more than it will benefit because of this new move?

The U.S. is India’s largest trade partner, and India sells much more to the U.S. than it buys. Last year, India imported U.S. goods worth U.S. $33 billion and exported goods worth $54 billion. Last year, trade equivalent to $54 billion was conducted between the two nations. The equation is slightly in favor of India only in the IT sector because of the outsourcing of services to Infosys and other firms.

All of this means the U.S., if chooses to do so, could hit back at India with fresh tariffs, which in turn would escalate the trade battle and, in turn, deliver a body blow to India’s already-suffering economy.

An editorial in Indian newspaper The Hindu said the Indian government has sent “a strong message that Indian is not going to be compelled to negotiate under duress.”

“To be sure, India has much at stake in ensuring that economic ties with its largest trading partner do not end up foundering on the rocky shoals of the current U.S. administration’s approach to trade and tariffs, one that China has referred to as ‘naked economic terrorism,” the editorial continues.

“The counter-tariffs have now lent the Indian side a bargaining chip that the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will have to grapple with during his visit later this month.”

To be fair, unlike countries like Canada and Mexico, India had extended the deadline for imposition of these duties eight times in the hope that some solution would emerge during a negotiation between the two nations. Earlier, India dragged the U.S. to the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement mechanism over the imposition of import duties on steel and aluminum. India exports steel and aluminum products worth about USD $1.5 billion to the U.S. annually.

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All attention is focused on Pompeo’s India visit, even as backchannel dialogue continues in the hopes of reaching a solution in the interest of both nations.

Among many other things, India is a land of auto rickshaws (or “tuk-tuks,” as they are called in Thailand).

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These three-wheeler “traffic dodgers” are a common sight on Indian roads. They also form part of India’s exports to other nations in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Just a couple of days ago, the tuk-tuk debuted in Omaha, Nebraska, too.

Perhaps keeping in mind its ever-increasing popularity around the globe, Indian steel company Jindal Stainless has announced it would soon be manufacturing stainless steel e-rickshaws, the Business Standard reported.

The steel major showed off a prototype at the 9th Electric Vehicles Expo, which drew enthusiastic crowds. About 600,000 e-rickshaws are being sold every year in India, and Jindal Stainless feels it could easily corner 25% of that multimillion-dollar market with its new product. Furthermore, the market is estimated to grow at 16% CAGR over the next five years, the Business Standard reported.

Jindal officials said there was demand from India’s first- and second-tier cities. One of them was Lucknow, the capital of India’s largest province, Uttar Pradesh. They expect an annual demand of 13,000 tons of steel from the sector by 2021.

Jindal claims to have manufactured India’s first-ever stainless steel e-rickshaw, claiming it was far superior in chassis performance as compared to carbon steel e-rickshaws.

The lifespan of the carbon steel vehicles is low as compared to the stainless steel counterpart. Safety, too, is better in the latter because of its high strength-to-weight ratio, improved crash resistance and corrosion prevention. Stainless steel components lead to 14-15% reduction in overall body weight, according to the Business Standard, resulting in higher battery efficiency. Not only that, a stainless steel “auto” will fetch a higher value when scrapped, as compared to the carbon steel counterpart.

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Jindal has already received advance orders of 100 stainless steel e-rickshaws. More are expected since India’s electric vehicle market is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decade.

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

A new government in India has steel companies and iron miners rushing to it with urgent pleas on iron ore mine auction.

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One appeal is for the government to auction iron ore mining licenses held by private miners when they expire in March 2020.

If that happens, it will come as a relief for India’s steel companies, as they will no longer have to rely on costly imports.

Mining leases of at least 59 iron ore mines with a total capacity of 85 MTY are set to expire March 31, 2020. These have a combined production capacity of around 60 MTY, but none of them has been put up for new auctions.

A few days ago, the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) and the Chattisgarh Sponge Iron Manufacturers’ Association (CSIMA) sent off letters to NITI Aayog, India’s planning commission, and the mines ministry, making a case for mine auctions, Livemint reported.

Experts say production at non-integrated steel companies, which do not have access to captive iron ore resources, will be disturbed if the auctions were delayed any more, affecting even major steel companies like Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd, Essar Steel and JSW Steel.

The letter to NITI Aayog by the ICC said accepting merchant miners’ request to extend their license till 2030 would mean a huge revenue loss by way of auction premium for the exchequer. It takes about two years for operations to restart once regulatory clearances are received.

For India’s iron ore miners, there’s new hope, however, given that international prices are over $100 a ton, the highest in five years, which means a restart in export of lower grades of ore from India.

The Indian province of Odisha has in excess of 100 million tons of inferior grade iron ore accumulated at mine heads, which nobody wants in India. Similar inventory is to be found in the province of Jharkhand. Both provinces account for over 80% of India’s accumulated iron ore stockpile, the Business Standard reported.

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In the recent past, export of iron ore failed to pick up, despite incentives. Miners are hopeful a supply disruption in Brazil and Australia will make global steelmakers look to source more iron ore from India.

One of India’s largest miners, Hindustan Copper Ltd., is looking to grow in ore production by 25% to 5.15 million tons in fiscal year 2019-2020. The company has set a revenue from operations target of approximately U.S. $286 million, with a capital expenditures of about U.S. $86 million, mostly for mine expansions.

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Besides mining of copper, Hindustan Copper’s other principal activities include concentration of copper ore into copper concentrate through a beneficiation process, in addition to smelting, refining and extruding of the copper concentrate into refined copper.

The state-owned company announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Ministry of Mines to raise copper ore production from 4.12 million tons in 2018-19 to 5.15 million tons, moneycontrol.com reported.

Like steel and iron ore, India’s copper consumption has been steadily going up.

A recent report by the International Copper Study Group for February said while the global mine production had declined by about 1.8% in the first two months of the year, refined usage remained more or less unchanged in the same period. In China and India, demand grew by 4%, but declined in Japan and the United States.

Like in steel, copper in India is under stress from imports.

The latter now account for 38% of the country’s consumption. India has a capacity of 1 million tons in copper, according to the Business Standard, and major players like Vedanta Ltd are about to set up new smelting units.

Likely Fallout of RCEP

India is on the verge of formally signing what’s called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Domestic copper producers have raised concerns to the Indian government regarding the potential fallout from signing this agreement.

RCEP is an economic gathering of 16 nations, which includes China. India’s trade with RCEP countries is amounts to approximately $100 billion, according to the Business Standard.

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When RCEP is signed, the Indian government is likely to keep 10% of the items under exempt list while opening up the rest of the goods. The Indian Primary Copper Producers Association has asked the government to keep key metals like copper and aluminum on RCEP’s exempt list.

The tariff war between the United States and China is being watched with trepidation in India.

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There’s no unanimous view yet on the fallout of the tariffs with respect India. Most in India are in a wait-and-see mode as things unfold.

Overall, some analysts have said the situation could be good for India, as the U.S. would now start sourcing more and more goods from other Asian countries, including India. That belief is underlined by a recent report by the Coalition for GSP, a group of U.S. companies and trade associations.

Based on official trade figures, the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) had saved U.S. companies U.S. $105 million this March, marking an increase of 36% from March 2018 and the second-highest level on record, The Asian Age reported.

But U.S. President Donald Trump’s March warning regarding removing India from the GSP list has not gone down well in Indian trade circles; the 60-day notice period ended May 3.

The report noted that Chinese imports, subject to new tariffs, were down significantly, and had risen significantly from countries like India.

For India, 97% of increased 2019 GSP imports are on the China Section 301 lists, so it is only logical that what is China’s loss is India’s gain.

But with Trump’s announcement, nobody knows what’s going to happen on this front yet.

That is specifically true on the metals front. Indian steel companies are already apprehensive that it will lead to an increase in the dumping of cheap steel into the Indian market.

The Indian steel industry has already appealed to the Indian government to impose safeguard duties of 25% to protect it from growing imports.

News agency Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying that China’s excess steel capacity was “a concern” for India, as the former could reroute it through other countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.

The new agreement signed a few days ago between the U.S. and Canada to prevent cheap imports of both products from entering North America will only compound the problem for India.

The world’s second-largest steel producer, India turned net importer this year on March 31, 2019, according to official statistics. Along with China, other countries that export steel to India are Japan and Korea, who, incidentally, are also major exporters of steel to the U.S. and Europe.

Fearing the dumping of additional steel, a group of Indian steel companies recently met with Indian government officials asking for more safeguards. For now, with the national election just having been completed, there may not be much movement as everyone awaits the next government to get into the saddle.

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According to a World Steel Association report, India is expected to finish as the second-largest user of steel in 2020. The usage of finished steel products in India is forecast at 102.8 million tons in 2019, rising to 110.2 million tons (mt) in 2020. The country’s steel use in 2018 reached 96 million tons.

After the collapse of its deal in Europe with Thyssenkrupp AG, Tata Steel is reportedly considering several options, including a new partner for a joint venture (JV), according to Bloomberg Quint.

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A report in the Business Standard quoted Tata Steel CEO and Managing Director T.V. Narendran as saying the steel major had a Plan B. The CEO also pointed out that Tata Steel was now a more “structurally sound company.”

In a conference call May 10 after the announcement of the JV not coming through, Narendran reiterated that Tata Steel was exploring a few options, though he did not clarify further. The CEO also forecast that the firm’s U.K. operations should improve upon their performance this year. At the same time, he underlined that the units in Europe need to be cash positive.

Executive Director and CFO Koushik Chatterjee said that volumes in Europe should increase by 5% this year, although the demand outlook in the continent is dim.

Analysts here say the collapse of Tata Steel’s JV with Thyssenkrupp AG had once again turned on the spotlight on Tata’s $13 billion debt. The deal would have transferred some of the debt to the joint venture.

At March-end, the Indian group’s debt stood at $13.15 billion, which is said to be the highest among Indian steelmakers. Of this, about $2.5 billion is from its European operations. Tata was looking at the Thyssenkrupp JV to create a sustainable portfolio in Europe. The management had hoped to bring in a level of stability to the units under the JV, which would have also taken over about 15% of Tata Steel debt.

Since 2016, Tata Steel has been trying to resolve its European business to get it on the right path. It had first purchased Corus Group Plc for about U.S. $13 billion in 2017. Since then, it has been involved in a series of closing and selling of plants in the U.K.

Meanwhile, a report in moneycontrol.com said there was unease at the U.K. units of Tata Steel with unions seeking an assurance that the company’s operations not be split and sold off after the JV fell through.

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Tata Steel’s European operations include units in the U.K. and the Netherlands, employing about 20,000 people. The Netherlands-based unit is said to be among the most profitable ones in Europe. However, the U.K. operations have been constrained under high energy costs in the country and legacy issues.

Faced with the prospect of perhaps not being able to meet the target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, the Indian government has decided to adopt a new tack.

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Media reports in India say the government is mulling a tender calling for the manufacturing of solar power equipment that doesn’t come with the usual clause requiring electricity generation. The aim is to invoke investor interest and meet the demands of this market.

There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that to meet the 2022 target, things need to, well, be speeded up.

Of the 175 GW of renewable energy capacity, 100 GW will be from solar, the Business Standard reported. Of this, the government expects at least 40 GW to come from installation of rooftop solar projects.

While the interest in solar power as an alternate has been growing in India, interest from solar equipment makers has been poor, which is now coming in the way of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plans on this front.

According to a report by news agency Bloomberg, India has been “struggling” to push its budding domestic solar equipment manufacturing industry. By one government reckoning, as of now, it can meet about 15% of India’s annual needs; India has already imposed a safeguard duty on cheap Chinese import options.

The same Bloomberg report pointed out that a May 2018 tender was “downsized” and also delayed many times before being scrapped due to poor investor interest. It was replaced by a smaller version in January, for which the bidding deadline has been extended three times — more likely than not, the latest deadline of May 14 will be extended again.

But in a case of the opposite, at least one province in India has decided to halt all new solar projects.

A few weeks ago, the southern Indian state of Karnataka has halted the construction of new solar energy projects, Livemint reported. The Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission, a regulatory body, stated there would be no further bidding to procure solar energy from large-scale projects until further orders.

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The Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission wrote to the state electricity body that because of Karnataka’s power-positive situation, it would have to restrict procurement from high-cost sources. The state’s distribution companies have already contracted to procure adequate power from solar energy sources, enabling them to meet their renewable purchase obligations (RPOs), not just for Fiscal Year 2020, but for another couple of years, as well.

One of India’s premier industrial representative bodies, the nonprofit Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) has expressed concern over the drop in mining concessions being awarded every year.

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In a presentation to Niti Aayog, a policy think tank of the Government of India (GoI), the Chamber called for the government to “expedite” auctions of mineral blocks, moneycontrol.com reported. The FICCI pointed out that the average of such sales had come down to 15 mines annually today, compared with the 300-400 mineral concessions given prior to 2015.

As part of reforms and in the interest of mining sector transparency, the Indian Parliament passed the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Amendment Bill in 2015. The Indian government claimed this had removed the arbitrariness seen earlier in such auctions.

FICCI said although the 2015 act does grant the winner of the mineral block with sub-surface mineral rights, the company had to face a lot of red tape to seek the surface rights and obtain necessary statutory clearances. This was a hindrance in converting successful auctions into production on the ground.

Citing unnamed sources, moneycontrol.com reported officials from Rio Tinto, Tata Steel, Vedanta and the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) also were part of the presentation.

The mining sector of India had already been demanding further reforms, including the implementation of a “One Tax Regime” in mineral production along the lines of GST, with the effective taxation rate (ETR) capped at 40%, the Hellenic Shipping News reported.

A few days ago, Niti Aayog itself set up a high level committee to look at ways and means of boosting mining in the country, according to CNBC-TV18 reported.

Mining contributes about 2% to India’s GDP, but some in India claim it could go up to as much as 10%.

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In FY 2018, for example, India’s import bill hit U.S. $465 billion, of which $126 billion, or 27%, consisted of metals and minerals alone.

Already labeled a protectionist regime, the Indian government recently issued notice to the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its intent to bring more stainless steel items under quality control, The Hindu Business Line reported.

The move has Indian importers of stainless steel worried.

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According to the draft “Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Order 2019” issued recently by the Indian Steel Ministry, compulsory testing of steel items is necessary from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). For now, this is applicable to two categories of products.

Stampings/laminations/cores of transformers (with or without winding) have to be made from BIS standard marked steel sheet and strip, conforming to certain Indian Standard (IS) specifications, government’s draft order said.

India has around 50 carbon steel and three stainless steel products, including pipes and tubes, under such quality control. Now, it has notified the WTO of bringing 13 more steel items under the same regime.

The reason given for this new move is to ensure safety of infrastructure and the health of the Indian people.

The new move is bound to raise the hackles of some of India’s important trading partners, including the European Union. India’s explanation is that it cannot go merely by the international safety guidelines for production of steel, since many non-Indian producers do not have BIS certification.

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India is seeing a glut of imported steel flooding its market. In March this year, imports had gone up as much as 46% to meet India’s increasing steel demand. Now, steel experts are worried that if more items are brought under the BIS quality control, it would lead to an increase in the domestic prices of steel.