A policy brief issued by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations said that the recent steps taken by the government to curb inflation, such as wheat and rice export bans and increasing export duties, were “knee-jerk approaches rather than a well-thought-out strategy”. It argued for a rational trade policy to contain food inflation which takes into account both consumers and producers.
In August 2023, retail inflation accelerated to 6.83%, which is higher than the ceiling of 6%. As food and beverages carry a 57% weightage in India’s retail inflation calculation, and food inflation was 9.94%, rapid acceleration in that segment had a severe impact on retail inflation (Chart 1).
Chart 1 | The chart shows the trend of retail inflation (dark blue) and food inflation (light blue) over time.
Chart appears incomplete? Click to remove AMP mode.
To date, the Indian government has implemented a series of actions aimed at controlling food inflation such as prohibiting the export of wheat in May 2022 and halting the export of broken rice in September 2022. Additionally, in June 2023, the government imposed stocking limits on wheat traders and millers. In July 2023, an export ban was placed on non-basmati white rice, followed by a 20% export duty on parboiled rice. In August 2023, a Minimum Export Price of $1,200 per tonne was set for basmati rice, along with a 40% export duty on onions.
Chart 2 | The chart shows the chronology of trade and domestic stock policy measures to tame the inflation of rice and wheat.
Due to heatwaves, the production of wheat has suffered in the last two years. Wheat procurement by the government has also been low in the last two cycles. Wheat inflation was 9.22% in August. All this prompted the government to ban wheat exports in May 2022, argues the brief. “But this sudden ban on wheat exports, instead of bringing wheat inflation down, led to greater uncertainty in the market and wheat inflation surged to 15.7 per cent in August 2022, when GOI also banned exports of wheat flour (atta) products,” says the policy brief. Just before the harvest season, wheat inflation accelerated to 25.4% in February 2023. Following this, the government off-loaded wheat under the Open Market Sales Scheme at much cheaper prices and announced wheat stocking limits, according to the policy brief. While these measures did bring down inflation, the report argues that the implications of such measures on farmers who bore the brunt have to be taken into account.
Click to subscribe to our Data newsletter
Chart 3 | The chart shows trends in cereal exports in India.
Data from the report shows that non-basmati exports increased from 1.38 MMT in FY20 to 6.40 MMT in FY23, by 363%. The report argues that in the fiscal year 2023, the per-tonne export value for non-basmati rice stood at $344, falling below India’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) for rice. This indicates that millers may be sourcing rice directly from farmers or that there could be an increase in rice supply due to potential distribution leakages from the expanded PMGKAY free rice programme.
Chart 4 | The chart shows the offtake of rice and wheat under the National Food Security Act and PMGKY from the central pool.
Chart 3 and Chart 4 underscore the growth in rice and wheat offtake within the last three years, as well as the significant rise in grain exports from India over the same time period.
In July 2023, when rice inflation was 13%, the government banned the export of non-basmati rice. Yet, inflation remained at 12.5%. Rather than imposing export duty and gradually increasing its impact, the government called for a ban which created panic among the African and Indian diaspora in the U.S., according to the report.
Source: A report called “Tackling food inflation: Is restricting exports and imposing stocking limits the optimal policy?” published by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations
Also read | Data | Heat wave in Punjab may curtail India’s wheat exports
Listen to our podcast |A discussion on Madras HC judgment: Wife can claim a share in husband’s property | Data Point podcast