GST pushed India’s economic growth downwards: UN

United Nations: The Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as protracted issues of corporate and bank balance sheet problems pushed India’s economic growth downward in 2017 but a gradual recovery is expected and the country’s economy is forecast to grow at 7.2 per cent in 2018, according to a UN report.

According to estimates in the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) flagship publication the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, India’s GDP grew at 6.6 per cent in 2017, down from 7.1 per cent in 2016.

The report said, the recently introduced GST as well as weak corporate and bank balance sheets resulted in modest economic growth, but signs of recovery emerged in the second half of 2017, it said.

Further, weak corporate and bank balance sheets in India also contributed to a sharp slowdown in investment; thus, simply lowering policy interest rates was not enough to revive investment in that country. In India “the new bankruptcy code and the recapitalization package for public sector banks are expected to support a gradual recovery in private investment.”

On the problem of India’s bad loans, the report said the share of non-performing loans in the country has doubled, and defaults on corporate bonds and syndicated loans have surged in recent years. By mid-2017, distressed bank loans reached a record high of 9.5 trillion rupees (USD 148 billion), but more recent revelations suggest that the actual figure may be higher.

“The banking problem is closely related to high corporate leverage; thus, the two problems are known as the ‘twin balance sheet’ challenge. If it does not effectively address that challenge, India will continue to face weak private investment and modest economic growth,” it said.

While it has been acknowledged that the GST has reduced the complexity of its taxation system, its tax laws still are perceived to be second most complex in the Asia-Pacific region – after those of China.

The report further noted that inflation accelerated in 2017 mainly as a result of increased food and fuel prices following severe floods in several countries and rising global oil prices. In India, higher inflation was also due to the housing rent allowances for civil servants and military staff recommended by the Seventh Pay Commission.

“With regard to the medium-term outlook, potential economic growth is on a downward trend in several countries owing to population ageing, slower capital accumulation and modest productivity growth,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar.