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Explained: What is currency manipulation, and why has US put India on its currency watchlist?

The designation of a country as a currency manipulator does not immediately attract any penalties, but tends to dent the confidence about a country in the global financial markets.

Written by Prabha Raghavan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 23, 2020 12:14:20 pm
currency manipulation, currency manipulation explained, what is currency manipulation, India currency manipulator, US currency watchlist, India currency watchlist, Indian ExpressCurrency manipulation is when a country is artificially lowering the value of its currency to gain an unfair advantage over others. (Bloomberg Photo: Dhiraj Singh, File)

The United States has once again included India in its monitoring list of countries with potentially “questionable foreign exchange policies” and “currency manipulation”. This comes a year after India was removed from the watchlist in the US Treasury Department’s semi-annual foreign-exchange report to the US Congress.

What does the term ‘currency manipulator’ mean?

This is a label given by the US government to countries it feels are engaging in “unfair currency practices” by deliberately devaluing their currency against the dollar. The practice would mean that the country in question is artificially lowering the value of its currency to gain an unfair advantage over others. This is because the devaluation would reduce the cost of exports from that country and artificially show a reduction in trade deficits as a result. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What are the parameters used?

An economy meeting two of the three criteria in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 is placed on the Monitoring List. This includes:

1. A “significant” bilateral trade surplus with the US — one that is at least $20 billion over a 12-month period.

2. A material current account surplus equivalent to at least 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over a 12-month period.

3. “Persistent”, one-sided intervention — when net purchases of foreign currency totalling at least 2 percent of the country’s GDP over a 12 month period are conducted repeatedly, in at least six out of 12 months.

Once on the Monitoring List, an economy will remain there for at least two consecutive reports “to help ensure that any improvement in performance versus the criteria is durable and is not due to temporary factors,” according to the US treasury department.

The administration will also add and retain on the Monitoring List any major US trading partner that accounts for a “large and disproportionate” share of the overall US trade deficit, “even if that economy has not met two of the three criteria from the 2015 Act”.

Which are the other countries in the latest monitoring list?

The US Department of the Treasury Office of International Affairs, in its latest report to the US Congress, has included India, Taiwan and Thailand to its Monitoring List of major trading partners that “merit close attention” to their currency practices and macroeconomic policies.

Other countries in the latest list comprise China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia.

India was last included in the currency watchlist in October 2018, but removed from the list that came out in May 2019.

The designation of a country as a currency manipulator does not immediately attract any penalties, but tends to dent the confidence about a country in the global financial markets.

Why is India back in the Monitoring List again?

India, which has for several years maintained a “significant” bilateral goods trade surplus with the US, crossed the $20 billion mark, according to the latest report. Bilateral goods trade surplus totalled $22 billion in the first four quarters through June 2020.

Based on the central bank’s intervention data, India’s net purchases of foreign exchange accelerated notably in the second half of 2019. Following sales during the initial onset of the pandemic, India sustained net purchases for much of the first half of 2020, which pushed net purchases of foreign exchange to $64 billion–or 2.4% of GDP–over the four quarters through June 2020.

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