India and China don’t agree on how much they trade with each other, and the gap is widening

At the time, in 2022, ThePrint’s analysis found that the disparity between the Chinese and Indian government data on the total trade between the two countries was roughly $15 billion.

While the Chinese foreign ministry said the disparity was “a result of different statistical measurement scales”, a senior commerce ministry official told ThePrint at that time that there was no scope for “manipulation” of Indian figures, whereas the Chinese “operate in an opaque manner”.

Meanwhile, US government figures were very close to those provided by India. Experts had at the time attributed the discrepancy between figures from India and China to statistical differences and, possibly, also the transit time of goods.

“Exports or imports taking place close to the end of the financial year can cause this disparity. What China exports to India in the month of March will reach India in May or June. Until then, it is not recorded. So, these figures [between India and China] are not completely comparable,” Ajay Sahai, director general and CEO, Federation of Indian Export Organisations, had told ThePrint.

Also Read: What conflict? India’s imports from China soar to almost $100 bn, led by smartphones, machinery

Widening discrepancy

Since then, the discrepancy in the trade data between the two countries has widened by as much as 17-21 percent.

For the period between April 2023 and January 2024, the difference in total trade figures stands at $17.594 billion, according to ThePrint’s analysis of data from the Indian commerce ministry versus China’s General Administration of Customs (GACC).

While the Indian figures show that the total trade between the two countries stood at $99.389 billion, the Chinese figures show it to be $116.983 billion for this period.

A look at the same period over the last three years shows a widening of the discrepancy by a couple of billion dollars. In fact, in April-January 2022-23, the data disparity was as high as $19.825 billion.

Graphic: Soham Sen/ThePrint

ThePrint’s analysis shows that over the past three years, the figure from the Indian commerce ministry for bilateral trade with China has hovered at around $95 billion. Data from the Chinese government over the last three fiscal years shows figures steadily above $110 billion.

Indian govt has some concerns

The Indian government has taken note of the growing discrepancy with Chinese figures.

Last December, the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCIS) conducted a preliminary review analysis of the variation in trade figures. It said that high variation in commodities like electrical and electronic equipment “may be taken up for detailed introspection for such stark variations in data”.

It said in its report that “underreporting” and “unfair cross-border trade practices” may be plausible reasons for the wide variations in data.

“Over-invoicing, wherein higher import figures has (sic) been reported by India vis-à-vis China’s export figures, may need to be examined so as to ensure and put in effect the practice of trading of goods at recorded fair market price and subsequently reduce all unfair trade practices, arbitrage opportunities and any form of data discrepancy,” it added.

The report makes a distinction between Country of Consignment (COC) and Country of Origin (COO), adding that India’s import value figures are “significantly high[er]” in COO terms versus COC terms. It added that COC terms is the official method adopted and disseminated in the public domain by India.

Discrepancies in only some goods

Looking at 96 commodity groups, the DGCIS found “no data variation”, either in COO or COC terms, for commodities such as live animals, cereals, meat, fish and seafood preparations, cocoa and cocoa preparations.

However, electrical and electronic equipment goods show a discrepancy as high as $12.44 billion. Meanwhile, a commodity group including nuclear reactors, boilers and machinery shows a variation of $2.4 billion. These two groups “may be taken up for detailed introspection”, the report stated.

In its methodology, the report excluded a few goods categories such as dairy produce; birds’ eggs; natural honey; edible products of animal origin — a group for which the report claims China has reported an export figure of $8,974 whereas India’s corresponding import figure stands at zero.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also Read: In 1955, India tried ‘mango diplomacy’ with China. The outcome wasn’t really sweet

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