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India set to play a vital role in global digital economy

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India in 2020 has been one of the biggest and fastest-growing technology markets in the world. Digital and technology adoption in India has been increasing at a steady rate over the last few years, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of technology adoption across sectors, including in high involvement services such as education and healthcare.

From the consumer perspective, there is a behavioural shift in using digital as the primary channel, even for high velocity everyday purchases. Domestic and global investors are actively participating in building digital infrastructure — communication networks, data centre and cloud services, and electronics manufacturing — to support India’s fast-growing digital economy.

Specifically, 2020 has been a breakout year for the electronics manufacturing industry. Government incentives such as Production Linked Incentives (PLI), Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), and Modified Electronics Manufacturing Clusters Scheme (EMC 2.0) under the aegis of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ generated significant interest from global investors in setting up manufacturing and supply chains in India. In October, the government approved applications of 16 electronics companies under the PLI scheme, and the scheme is now also being extended to 10 other sectors, including telecom and networking components.

A strong manufacturing ecosystem complements scientific and industrial research, and the developments in the electronics manufacturing industry in 2020 are likely to boost the overall technology manufacturing in India in the years to come. This will enable a self-sustaining ecosystem for research & development in advanced technologies, leveraging India’s cost-effective science and engineering talent.

In the export markets, India’s tier-1 technology services companies have shown resilience in not only revenue performance, but also in margin performance during this pandemic, and also stepped up hiring activity during the year. There has also been significant interest from tier-1 and tier-2 technology services companies to establish strategic partnerships with their MNC clients with respect to their captive technology and business operations, including acquisition and business transfer of certain assets.

For the MNCs, exiting sub-scale captive operations through strategic sale and business transfer helps unlock value, while ensuring business continuity. For service providers, such deals tend to strengthen client relationships and also provide revenue stability in the medium term along with skilled employees and capabilities. This year witnessed a few strategic transactions of this nature, and this trend is likely to continue into the future, as MNCs streamline their global product development and service delivery strategies in the post COVID-19 world.

From the demand side, digital transformation deals continue to gain momentum as enterprises invest in cloud based infrastructure for digitising their customer channels and business operations. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and edge computing are gaining momentum in designing next generation cloud-to-edge architecture and services. Workforce transformation in a work-from-anywhere environment has witnessed significant developments during the year, and also fundamentally transformed the way global delivery models are executed.

As we look into the future, global delivery models in technology services industry could witness a significant redesign, in the technology enabled world of work. Client project delivery would shift from mobilising resources to mobilising skills in a fully distributed workforce spread across multiple geographies, collaborating seamlessly for client projects delivered using cloud-based environments.

COVID-19 has brought significant shifts in technology consumption for enterprises, governments, and consumers alike, and 2020 has been the inflexion point in that transformation journey. As we look into the future, mass digitisation is a reality, across sectors and across the world, and a range of enterprise and consumer technologies — from 5G to the cloud to virtual reality and edge computing — will continue to offer opportunities to global enterprises. There is greater market potential, shorter adoption cycles, and possibly lower costs for next generation tools and technologies, and it’s imperative for organisations to reimagine customer experience and business processes for a digital first world.

Workforce transformation has proved to be one of the significant developments across industries. What started out as necessity in 2020 is likely to find a new equilibrium in 2021, as organisations reimagine workforce and workplaces at a more fundamental level keeping in mind long-term transitions in their business. Successful organisations will be those that are able to redesign their approach towards workforce management, in attracting, engaging, and retaining talent in a wholly different, technologically-enabled world of work.

The learnings on workforce transformation from the technology industry, which is one of the earliest to adapt to this phenomena would have relevance and resonance across the broader knowledge industries. The Indian technology industry’s talent machine coupled with fully distributed global delivery models is likely to play an important role in the transformation journey of the global digital economy in the years to come.

Thermal coal imports at major ports fall 16% to 55 MT in April-December period: IPA

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Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact cargo movement in India with thermal coal imports at 12 major ports declining 16.43 percent year-on-year to 55.16 million tonnes (MT) in April-December 2020 period, according to ports' body IPA.

Coking coal handling dropped by 12.13 percent to 36.96MT during the April-December period of the current fiscal.

Coal volumes at the 12 major ports declined for the ninth straight month in December 2020, as per the Indian Ports Association (IPA).

These ports had handled 66MT of thermal coal and 42MT of coking coal in April-December period of the previous financial year.

Thermal coal is the mainstay of India's energy programme as 70 percent of power generation is dependent on the dry fuel while coking coal is used mainly for making steel.

India is the third-largest producer of coal after China and the US. It has 299 billion tonnes of resources and 123 billion tonnes of proven reserves, which may last for over 100 years.

In the wake of the pandemic, sharp declines were also witnessed in handling of containers, coal and POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant), among other commodities.

India has 12 major ports under the control of the central government -- Deendayal (erstwhile Kandla), Mumbai, JNPT, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Kamarajar (earlier Ennore), V O Chidambarnar, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Kolkata (including Haldia).

These ports handle about 61 percent of the country's total cargo traffic. They handled 705MT of cargo last fiscal.

Adversely impacted by the pandemic, these 12 ports witnessed a considerable decline in cargo traffic for the eighth straight month in November.

Recently, Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the cargo traffic at 12 major ports declined considerably from March 2020 onwards due to the adverse impact of the pandemic.

Government has not banned export of COVID-19 vaccines, clarifies Health Secretary

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The government has not banned the export of COVID-19 vaccines, said Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on January 5.

The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPITT) or the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) have not made any changes to export rules, thus, vaccine exports are allowed.

On January 4, the head of Serum Institute of India, which has been contracted to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations said India will not allow the export of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months.

He said the company also has been barred from selling the vaccine in the private market.

The vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the Indian regulator on January 3, but on the condition that SII doesn't export the shots to ensure that vulnerable populations in India are protected, Adar Poonawalla, the company's CEO, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

India-US trade ties hit by tariff policies under Trump administration: US Congress report

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Under the Trump administration, US-India tensions have increased over each side's tariff policies, a Congressional report has said, noting that the two sides have also held concerted negotiations to address these trade frictions.

The bipartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), in its latest report, pointed out that India's recent tariff hikes on cell phones and other telecommunication goods went up from zero percent to 15-20 percent in the last few years.

"Under the Trump administration, bilateral tensions increased over each side's tariff policies. In general, India has relatively high average tariff rates, especially in agriculture. It can raise its applied rates to bound rates without violating its commitments under the WTO (World Trade Organization), causing uncertainty for US exporters," said the CRS report, which is prepared for the members of Congress ahead of trade decisions.

The United States and several other countries have requested to join various WTO dispute consultations against India, related to its technology tariffs, also questioning its compliance with the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

"India opposes the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum national security-based 'Section 232' tariffs that the Trump Administration imposed in 2018. India repeatedly delayed applying planned retaliatory tariffs against the United States in hopes of resolving the issues bilaterally," it said.

After India lost its eligibility for the US Trade Preference Program, India imposed higher tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent, affecting about USD 1.32 billion of US exports, such as nuts, apples, chemicals, and steel, the report stated, adding that the two sides are challenging each other's tariffs in the WTO.

"Under the Trump administration, the United States and India held concerted negotiations to address trade frictions. A potential trade deal could include partial restoration by the United States of India's GSP (Generalised System of Preference) benefits in exchange for certain market access commitments according to press accounts," CRS said.

Yet, the long expected limited trade deal has not materialised to date, the report said.

Negotiations under prior administrations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) are stalled due to differences on approaches on investor protection.

On the government-to-government trade policy, the CRS listed a set of key issues. Main among them was what aspects of bilateral trade relations would change or remain the same under a President-elect Joe Biden-led administration.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, is set to be succeeded by Biden, a Democrat on January 20 after he won the November 3 presidential election.

Other key issues were, what trade issues should the United States and India prioritise in future talks, the potential for broader trade agreement negotiations, will India and the United States renegotiate entry into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or potentially seek other ways to engage on regional issues, and are there opportunities for the United States and India to bridge differences on multilateral trade issues.

Noting that India and the US have signed defense contracts worth more than USD 20 billion since 2008, up from USD 500 million in all previous years combined, the CRS said the future big deals are the purchase of an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System, valued at nearly USD2 billion, and 30 MQ-9B Sky Guardian drones worth more than USD 3 billion.

"India is eager for more technology-sharing and co-production initiatives, while the United States urges more reforms in India's defence offsets policy and higher Foreign Direct Investment caps in its defence sector. India's multibillion-dollar deal to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense system may trigger US sanctions on India under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the CRS said.

Over 4.84 crore ITRs for 2019-20 filed till December 31

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Over 4.84 crore income tax returns (ITRs) for fiscal year 2019-20 have been filed till December 31, 2020, the Income Tax Department said on Friday.

The government has extended the ITR filing deadline for individuals till January 10, and for companies till February 15.

'Over 4.84 crore Income Tax Returns for AY 2020-21 have already been filed till 31st of December, 2020,' the Income Tax Department tweeted.

The deadline for individuals to file ITRs for 2018-19 was August 31, 2019 and over 5.61 crore ITRs were filed.

An analysis of the data showed that filing of tax returns by individuals for 2019-20 has slowed in the current year, while filing by businesses and trusts have increased.

Over 2.65 crore ITR-1 have been filed till December 31, 2020, lower than the 3.09 crore filed till August 31, 2019.

Over 1.08 crore ITR-4 have been filed till December 31 as compared to 1.28 crore filed till August 31, 2019.

Returns in ITR-1 Sahaj are filed by individuals whose total income does not exceed Rs 50 lakh, while form ITR-4 Sugam is meant for individuals, Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) and firms (other than Limited Liability Partnership ) having a total income of up to Rs 50 lakh and having presumptive income from business and profession.

Over 36.58 lakh ITR-2 (filed by people having income from residential property) were filed till December 31. ITR-5 (filed by LLP and Association of Persons) filings stood at 7.84 lakh, while ITR-6 (by businesses) filings were at 3.82 lakh.

ITR-7 (filed by persons having income derived from property held under trust) filings stood at 1.15 lakh till December 31, 2020.

India's fiscal deficit widens, slowing government expenditure remains a concern

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The Centre’s fiscal deficit for April-November 2020 soared to Rs 10.76 lakh crore, or 135 percent of the full year budgeted target of Rs 7.96 lakh crore, as the government’s finances continued to be stretched due to lower revenues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic slowdown.

What is noticeable, however, is that while expenditure in November shot up to be the highest in five months, overall consolidated spending levels are much below what analysts expect in a year when there has been clamour for increased public spending.

Total expenditure for the first eight months of the current fiscal year was Rs 19.06 lakh crore or 62 percent of the budget size of Rs 30 lakh crore. This compares to 65.3 percent for the same period last year, when total expenditure for April-November 2019 was Rs 18.20 lakh crore versus a budget size of Rs 27.9 lakh crore.

While the Centre has increased its capital and revenue spending commitments as part of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat and Gareeb Kalyan announcements, it is clear that some expenditure rationalization is taking place as well.

“This year, they have more justification than ever to ramp up public expenditure. They can take the fiscal deficit to 10 per cent of GDP, owing to higher deficit and lower GDP, and it would be perfectly understandable. However, the Centre is not spending as much as it should,” said an independent economist. The person did not wish to be named as he currently advises the government on a number of matters.

Pandemic-proof: COVID-19 increases demand for insurance agents, hiring doubles

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Mumbai’s 42-year-old Mithilesh Gupta who had quit the insurance agency profession in January 2019 is back in the system after he was approached by a bank-led private life insurer he was working with earlier. Gupta was not only promised higher incentives but also a company laptop which he could own after serving for two years.

“I have experience selling online through tablets and handheld devices. Since I was anyway working in my family garment business where Coronavirus has impacted sales, it made sense to have an additional source of income,” said Gupta.

Data from the Life Insurance Council showed that between April 1 and November 30 (FY21) there were 106,035 agents hired by life insurance companies. This is more than double of the 46,203 agents hired during the same period last year.

Agent data of life insurers

Industry sources said that the rise is predominantly due to the fact that customers were not fully equipped to completely buy online (without intermediary) on one hand and banks started to refocus on core business amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Though we have three bank partners, they made it clear that the branches will used purely for banking transactions and third-party product sales will be suspended for a few months. This is true for all other banks too. Hence, life insurers hired agents to make up for the loss,” said the head of distribution at a private life insurer.

Banks contribute close to 55 percent of the annual new business premium while agents contribute about 35-40 percent. The rest comes from pure online sales through web aggregators and insurance company websites.

Why are agents in demand?

As soon the COVID-19 lockdown was announced on March 25, insurance business was the worst hit. Bank branches started only doing transactional banking business and insurance sales took a backseat.

In this juncture, insurance agents were responsible for helping insurers meet the new business premium targets. Products were sold online and insurance agents acted as an intermediary for customers to buy digitally.

"Insurance agents could be quickly trained so the life insurance industry saw a revival from July onwards. Also for HNI clients it was easier to have agents meet them physically since most agents have their own bikes," said the chief sales officer of a bank-promoted insurance company.

Showing the first signs of growth in FY21, the new business premium of life insurers saw a 6.9 percent year-on-year (YoY) growth to Rs 22,986.10 crore in July. This growth was led by insurance agents, said industry insiders.

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak in India and the subsequent lockdown from March 25, this was the first month that life insurers have seen a growth in first year premium collection. Post that, insurers have seen 8-10 percent growth every month.

Data from Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) showed that life insurers had a 31.9 percent year-on-year (YoY) growth in new premiums at Rs 22,776 crore in October 2020.

How do the numbers look like?

As of November 30, there were 2.38 million agents in the life insurance industry. Of this, 1.3 million belong to LIC while the rest are private life insurers’ agents.

In the private life insurance space, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance had the highest number of agents at 179,245. This was followed by SBI Life Insurance with 164,084 agents and HDFC Life with 109,175 agents.

Total agent data

Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance which primarily sells through bank branches hired 99 new agents this year. This insurer had 152 agents as of November 30 compared to 54 in the beginning of FY21.

In terms of absolute additions of new agents, SBI Life Insurance took the top spot among private insurers by adding 34,482 agents between April and November. LIC was the number one as the previous years adding 198,082 agents between April and November.

GNPA ratio of banks declined to 7.5% in September, says RBI Trends and Progress report

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Scheduled Commercial Banks’ (SCBs)gross non-performing assets (GNPA) ratio declined from 9.1 percent at end-March 2019 to 8.2 percent at end-March 2020 and further to 7.5 percent at end-September 2020, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its Report on Trend and Progress of Banking in India 2019-20 on December 29.

Further, the capital to risk weighted assets (CRAR) ratio of SCBs strengthened from 14.3 percent at end-March 2019 to 14.7 percent at end-March 2020 and further to 15.8 per cent at end-September 2020, partly aided by recapitalisation of public sector banks (PSBs) and capital raising from the market by both public and private sector banks, the RBI said.

Also, net profits of SCBs turned around in 2019-20 after losses in the previous two years. In H1, 2020-21, their financial performance was shored up by the moratorium, standstill in asset classification, and ploughing back of dividends, the RBI report said, adding, during 2019-20 and first half of 2020-21, SCBs consolidated the gains achieved after the turnaround in 2018-19.

2020 wrap-up: Cautious optimism in jobs sector as year comes to a close

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The coronavirus outbreak had the biggest impact on the jobs sector in the country. Close to 10 million jobs were lost across small, medium and large firms with sectors like travel, hospitality, e-commerce and real estate among the worst hit.

However, ever since the lockdown restrictions eased from July 2020 onwards, there has been a slow revival across sectors. The educational services sector has gained the most with e-learning becoming the new favourite across households.

But, while hiring intent has improved, companies are taking a cautious approach, hiring aggressively only for select roles and limiting numbers for generic roles like sales, marketing and administration.

These are some trends in the sector
- Hiring has gone completely virtual across companies- Educational services sector is hiring in large numbers while the traditional sector is going slow

- Mass hiring by IT, consulting firms has hit a pause due to COVID-19

UK, EU on cusp of striking Brexit trade deal at last

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Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides next week.

Trade will change regardless come Jan. 1, when the U.K. leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union. But both sides have been working furiously to avoid a nightmare scenario, in which the imposition of tariffs and duties would cost billions in trade and hundreds of thousands of jobs and potentially so snarl ports that many goods would struggle to get through. That possibility was starkly illustrated this week when a brief French blockade of British trucks over coronavirus concerns created chaos at ports that is still being sorted out.

After resolving nearly all of the remaining sticking points, negotiators combed through hundreds of pages of legal text Thursday that should become the blueprint for a post-Brexit relationship.

As during much of the nine-month negotiations, the issue of EU fishing fleets in British waters proved the most intractable and divisive, with negotiators still haggling over quotas for some individual species as dawn came and went.

Still, sources on both sides said the long and difficult negotiations were on the cusp of being wrapped up as negotiators, holed up at EU headquarters in Brussels with a stack of pizzas, worked to deliver the text to their leaders on Thursday.

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said there appeared to be “some sort of last-minute hitch” over fish, but that it was not surprising. He said he expected announcements of a deal from London and Brussels “later on today.”

The agreement would then go to the 27 EU nations seeking unanimous approval, as well as the blessing of the EU and British parliaments. It's expected to get those approvals.

Britain's currency, the pound, rose on expectations of a deal, up 0.5% against the dollar to just under $1.36.

It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave the EU in order to — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Negotiating how to disentangle economies that were closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

Despite the apparent breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain. But it leaves the mutually dependent, often fractious U.K.-EU relationship — and its 675 billion pounds ($918 billion) in annual trade — on a much more solid footing than a disruptive no-deal split.

If a deal is announced, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to claim to have delivered on the promise that won him a resounding election victory a year ago: “Get Brexit Done.”

Even with a deal, trade between Britain and the EU will face customs checks and other barriers on Jan. 1. But an agreement would avert the more disastrous effects of tariffs and duties. Britain withdrew from the EU on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31.

Johnson has always insisted the U.K. will “prosper mightily” even if no deal is reached and the U.K. has to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms from Jan. 1.

But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. exports, including 10% on cars and more than 40% on lamb, battering the U.K. economy as it struggles to rebound from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past few days, Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have been drawn more and more into the talks, speaking by phone in a bid to unblock negotiations that have dragged on for months, hampered by the pandemic and by the two sides' opposing views of what Brexit entails.

Rumors of a pre-Christmas trade deal surfaced in recent days based on progress on the main outstanding issues: fair competition, resolution of future disputes and fishing.

The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules to be able to gain an unfair edge with its exports to the EU. Britain has said that having to meet EU rules would undercut its sovereignty.

Compromise was finally reached on those “level playing field” issues, leaving the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish to be the final sticking point. Maritime EU nations are seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished, but Britain has been insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”

A huge gap between the two sides on fishing was gradually narrowed until it appeared, at last, bridgeable.

Johnson’s large Conservative majority in Parliament should ensure that the Brexit trade agreement passes, but any compromises will be criticized by hardline Brexit supporters in his party. The party’s euroskeptic European Research Group said it would carefully scrutinize any deal “to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom after we exit the transition period at the end of this year.”

The European Parliament has warned it's now too late for it to approve the deal before Jan. 1, but an agreement could provisionally be put in place and approved by EU legislators in January.

Businesses on both sides are clamoring for a deal that would save tens of billions in costs.

While both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think Britain would take a greater hit, because it is smaller and more reliant on trade with the EU than the other way around.

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