The Make In India programme, which sought to turn the country into a manufacturing hub exporting goods of all manner to the world, has not lived up to its promise. So observes A.M. Naik, chairman of the engineering major Larsen & Toubro, who has said that the initiative has failed to create enough jobs as companies still prefer to import goods instead of making them domestically. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched this industrial programme in September 2014, its big aim was to raise the share of manufacturing in India’s gross domestic product to 25% by 2025, creating more than 10 million jobs every year. On current trends, the first goal is likely to be missed, while the second has not been achieved either.

Many analysts believe that the export orientation of the programme is a problem. With global trade in turbulence and globalization in retreat, India’s export prospects have diminished. But is local manufacturing for import substitution a good alternative? Naik’s complaint about the relative ease of importing things has added to the debate. As his comments convey, making products in India is not easy, and much needs to be done to address this. Whether the prevailing conditions of credit availability make imports all the more tempting, for example, could do with a look-in.

Yet, the country should not regress to the pre-liberalization days of seeing all exports as good and all imports as bad. What is made better elsewhere at lower cost, we might still be better off importing, especially inputs for export items. What we can match on price and quality locally, we should make ourselves, and once we do a better job of it, the whole world would open up as a market. Attaining global competitiveness is a dynamic process. It involves direct exposure to the world’s best via imports. Shutting out imports via high tariffs to encourage local manufacturing would be a bad idea.

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