Already affected by the rising value of the rupee and slow demand from key markets like US and Europe, gem and jewellery exporters were further hit by the RBI’s directive to convert 50 per cent of foreign currency holdings in all types of Exchange Earner's Foreign Currency (EEFC) accounts in to rupees.
The RBI move is part of its attempt to stabilise the rupee which dipped to a new low of 53.82 against the dollar this week, and will release an estimated $2.5 bn worth of foreign currency into the market.
While the RBI’s objective cannot be faulted, its methodology can be, particularly the lack of a differential approach towards the foreign currency balances held by different sectors.
Clearly industries dealing in commodities, like gems and jewellery, have different needs from sectors like IT that earn dollars through selling services overseas. Unlike the latter, the former need foreign currency to import fresh raw materials on a regular basis. This is all the more marked for g & j, since virtually all the raw materials are purchased overseas, and value addition is based on the skills of the people involved in the trade.
The exact modalities of ensuring payment flexibility for such sectors can be worked out, but a starting point could be the FIEO proposal, where the limit for sectors like gems and jewellery could be higher than the general limit, say 75 per cent as against 50 per cent for others.