Globalisation And The Indian Economy

Most regions of the world are getting increasingly interconnected. This interconnectedness across countries has many dimensions — cultural, political, social and economic. Globalisation is defined as the integration between countries through foreign trade and foreign investments by multinational corporations (MNCs). MNCs have been a major force in the globalisation process connecting distant regions of the world. Integration of production and integration of markets is a key idea behind understanding the process of globalisation and its impact. Globalisation has been facilitated by several factors. Three of them are: rapid improvements in technology, liberalisation of trade and investment policies and, pressures from international organisations such as the WTO.


As consumers in today’s world, some of us have a wide choice of goods and services before us. The latest models of digital cameras, mobile phones and televisions made by the leading manufacturers of the world are within our reach. Every season, new models of automobiles can be seen on Indian roads. Gone are the days when Ambassador and Fiat were the only cars on Indian roads. Today, Indians are buying cars produced by nearly all the top companies in the world. A similar explosion of brands can be seen for many other goods: from shirts to televisions to processed fruit juices.

Such wide-ranging choice of goods in our markets is a relatively recent phenomenon. You wouldn’t have found such a wide variety of goods in Indian markets even two decades back. In a matter of years, our markets have been transformed!

How do we understand these rapid transformations? What are the factors that are bringing about these changes? And, how are these changes affecting the lives of the people?



Until the middle of the twentieth century, production was largely organised within countries. What crossed the boundaries of these countries were raw materials, food stuff and finished products. Colonies such as India exported raw materials and food stuff and imported finished goods. Trade was the main channel connecting distant countries. This was before large companies called multinational corporations (MNCs) emerged on the scene.

A MNC is a company that owns or controls production in more than one nation. MNCs set up offices and factories for production in regions where they can get cheap labour and other resources. This is done so that the cost of production is low and the MNCs can earn greater profits.

The MNC not only sells its finished products globally, but more important, the goods and services are produced globally. As a result, production is organised in increasingly complex ways. The production process is divided into small parts and spread out across the globe.

As an example, China provides the advantage of being a cheap manufacturing location. Mexico and Eastern Europe are useful for their closeness to the markets in the US and Europe. India has highly skilled engineers who can understand the technical aspects of production. It also has educated English-speaking youth who can provide customer care services. And all this probably can mean 50-60 per cent cost-savings for the MNC! The advantage of spreading out production across the borders to the multinationals can be truly immense.



In general, MNCs set up production where it is close to the markets; where there is skilled and unskilled labour available at low costs; and where the availability of other factors of production is assured. In addition, MNCs might look for government policies that look after their interests.

Having assured themselves of these conditions, MNCs set up factories and offices for production. The money that is spent to buy assets such as land, building, machines and other equipment is called investment. Investment made by MNCs is called foreign investment.

At times, MNCs set up production jointly with some of the local companies of these countries. The benefit to the local company of such joint production is two-fold.

  • First, MNCs can provide money for additional investments, like buying new machines for faster production.
  • Second, MNCs might bring with them the latest technology for production.

But the most common route for MNC investments is to buy up local companies and then to expand production. MNCs with huge wealth can quite easily do so.

Cargill Foods

Cargill Foods, a very large American MNC, has bought over smaller Indian companies such as Parakh Foods. Parakh Foods had built a large marketing network in various parts of India, where its brand was well-reputed. Also, Parakh Foods had four oil refineries, whose control has now shifted to Cargill. Cargill is now the largest producer of edible oil in India, with a capacity to make 5 million pouches daily!

In fact, many of the top MNCs have wealth exceeding the entire budgets of the developing country governments. With such enormous wealth, imagine the power and influence of these MNCs!

There’s another way in which MNCs control production. Large MNCs in developed countries place orders for production with small producers. Garments, footwear, sports items are examples of industries where production is carried out by a large number of small producers around the world. The products are supplied to the MNCs, which then sell these under their own brand names to the customers. These large MNCs have tremendous power to determine price, quality, delivery, and labour conditions for these distant producers.

Thus, we see that there are a variety of ways in which the MNCs are spreading their production and interacting with local producers in various countries across the globe. By setting up partnerships with local companies, by using the local companies for supplies, by closely competing with the local companies or buying them up, MNCs are exerting a strong influence on production at these distant locations. As a result, production in these widely dispersed locations is getting interlinked.



For a long time foreign trade has been the main channel connecting countries. Since ancient times, trade routes exist connecting India and South Asia to markets both in the East and West and the extensive trade that took place along these routes. It was trading interests which attracted various trading companies such as the East India Company to India.

What then is the basic function of foreign trade? To put it simply, foreign trade creates an opportunity for the producers to reach beyond the domestic markets, i.e., markets of their own countries. Producers can sell their produce not only in markets located within the country but can also compete in markets located in other countries of the world. Similarly, for the buyers, import of goods produced in another country is one way of expanding the choice of goods beyond what is domestically produced.

In general, with the opening of trade, goods travel from one market to another. Choice of goods in the markets rises. Prices of similar goods in the two markets tend to become equal. And, producers in the two countries now closely compete against each other even though they are separated by thousands of miles! Foreign trade thus results in connecting the markets or integration of markets in different countries.

Chinese Toys in India

Chinese manufacturers learn of an opportunity to export toys to India, where toys are sold at a high price. They start exporting plastic toys to India. Buyers in India now have the option of choosing between Indian and the Chinese toys. Because of the cheaper prices and new designs, Chinese toys become more popular in the Indian markets. Within a year, 70 to 80 per cent of the toy shops have replaced Indian toys with Chinese toys. Toys are now cheaper in the Indian markets than earlier.

What is happening here? As a result of trade, Chinese toys come into the Indian markets. In the competition between Indian and Chinese toys, Chinese toys prove better. Indian buyers have a greater choice of toys and at lower prices. For the Chinese toy makers, this provides an opportunity to expand business. The opposite is true for Indian toy makers. They face losses, as their toys are selling much less.



In the past two to three decades, more and more MNCs have been looking for locations around the world which would be cheap for their production. Foreign investment by MNCs in these countries has been rising. At the same time, foreign trade between countries has been rising rapidly. A large part of the foreign trade is also controlled by MNCs. For instance, the car manufacturing plant of Ford Motors in India not only produces cars for the Indian markets, it also exports cars to other developing countries and exports car components for its many factories around the world. Likewise, activities of most MNCs involve substantial trade in goods and also services.

The result of greater foreign investment and greater foreign trade has been greater integration of production and markets across countries. Globalisation is this process of rapid integration or interconnection between countries. MNCs are playing a major role in the globalisation process. More and more goods and services, investments and technology are moving between countries. Most regions of the world are in closer contact with each other than a few decades back.

Besides the movements of goods, services, investments and technology, there is one more way in which the countries can be connected. This is through the movement of people between countries. People usually move from one country to another in search of better income, better jobs or better education. In the past few decades, however, there has not been much increase in the movement of people between countries due to various restrictions.




Rapid improvement in technology has been one major factor that has stimulated the globalisation process. For instance, the past fifty years have seen several improvements in transportation technology. This has made much faster delivery of goods across long distances possible at lower costs.

Containers for transport of goods

Goods are placed in containers that can be loaded intact onto ships, railways, planes and trucks. Containers have led to huge reduction in port handling costs and increased the speed with which exports can reach markets. Similarly, the cost of air transport has fallen. This has enabled much greater volumes of goods being transported by airlines.

Even more remarkable have been the developments in information and communication technology. In recent times, technology in the areas of telecommunications, computers, Internet has been changing rapidly. Telecommunication facilities (telegraph, telephone including mobile phones, fax) are used to contact one another around the world, to access information instantly, and to communicate from remote areas. This has been facilitated by satellite communication devices. Computers have now entered almost every field of activity. In the amazing world of internet, we can obtain and share information on almost anything we want to know. Internet also allows us to send instant electronic mail (e-mail) and talk (voice-mail) across the world at negligible costs.

Using IT in Globalisation

Information and communication technology (or IT in short) has played a major role in spreading out production of services across countries.

A news magazine published for London readers is to be designed and printed in Delhi. The text of the magazine is sent through Internet to the Delhi office. The designers in the Delhi office get orders on how to design the magazine from the office in London using telecommunication facilities. The designing is done on a computer. After printing, the magazines are sent by air to London. Even the payment of money for designing and printing from a bank in London to a bank in Delhi is done instantly through the Internet (e-banking)!


Liberalisation of foreign trade and foreign investment policy

Let us consider an example : Chinese toys are imported in India. Suppose the Indian government puts a tax on import of toys. What would happen? Those who wish to import these toys would have to pay tax on this. Because of the tax, buyers will have to pay a higher price on imported toys. Chinese toys will no longer be as cheap in the Indian markets and imports from China will automatically reduce. Indian toy-makers will prosper.

Tax on imports is an example of trade barrier. It is called a barrier because some restriction has been set up. Governments can use trade barriers to increase or decrease (regulate) foreign trade and to decide what kinds of goods and how much of each, should come into the country.

The Indian government, after Independence, had put barriers to foreign trade and foreign investment. This was considered necessary to protect the producers within the country from foreign competition. Industries were just coming up in the 1950s and 1960s, and competition from imports at that stage would not have allowed these industries to come up. Thus, India allowed imports of only essential items such as machinery, fertilisers, petroleum etc. Note that all developed countries, during the early stages of development, have given protection to domestic producers through a variety of means.

Starting around 1991, some far-reaching changes in policy were made in India. The government decided that the time had come for Indian producers to compete with producers around the globe. It felt that competition would improve the performance of producers within the country since they would have to improve their quality. This decision was supported by powerful international organisations.

Thus, barriers on foreign trade and foreign investment were removed to a large extent. This meant that goods could be imported and exported easily and also foreign companies could set up factories and offices here.

Removing barriers or restrictions set by the government is what is known as liberalisation. With liberalisation of trade, businesses are allowed to make decisions freely about what they wish to import or export. The government imposes fewer restrictions than before and is therefore said to be more liberal.



Liberalisation of foreign trade and investment in India was supported by some very powerful international organisations. These organisations say that all barriers to foreign trade and investment are harmful. There should be no barriers. Trade between countries should be ‘free’. All countries in the world should liberalise their policies.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) is one such organisation whose aim is to liberalise international trade. Started at the initiative of the developed countries, WTO establishes rules regarding international trade, and sees that these rules are obeyed. 149 countries of the world are currently members of the WTO (2006).

Though WTO is supposed to allow free trade for all, in practice, it is seen that the developed countries have unfairly retained trade barriers. On the other hand, WTO rules have forced the developing countries to remove trade barriers. An example of this is the current debate on trade in agricultural products.

Debate on Trade Practices

The agriculture sector provides the bulk of employment and a significant portion of the GDP in India. Compare this to a developed country such as the US with the share of agriculture in GDP at 1% and its share in total employment a tiny 0.5%! And yet this very small percentage of people who are engaged in agriculture in the US receive massive sums of money from the US government for production and for exports to other countries. Due to this massive money that they receive, US farmers can sell the farm products at abnormally low prices. The surplus farm products are sold in other country markets at low prices, adversely affecting farmers in these countries.

Developing countries are, therefore, asking the developed country governments, “We have reduced trade barriers as per WTO rules. But you have ignored the rules of WTO and have continued to pay your farmers vast sums of money. You have asked our governments to stop supporting our farmers, but you are doing so yourselves. Is this free and fair trade?”



In the last fifteen years, globalisation of the Indian economy has come a long way. What has been its effect on the lives of people?

Globalisation and greater competition among producers – both local and foreign producers – has been of advantage to consumers, particularly the well-off sections in the urban areas. There is greater choice before these consumers who now enjoy improved quality and lower prices for several products. As a result, these people today, enjoy much
higher standards of living than was possible earlier.

Among producers and workers, the impact of globalisation has not been uniform.

  • Firstly, MNCs have increased their investments in India over the past 15 years, which means investing in India has been beneficial for them. MNCs have been interested in industries such as cell phones, automobiles, electronics, soft drinks, fast food or services such as banking in urban areas. These products have a large number of well-off buyers. In these industries and services, new jobs have been created. Also, local companies supplying raw materials, etc. to these
    industries have prospered.
  • Secondly, several of the top Indian companies have been able to benefit from the increased competition. They have invested in newer technology and production methods and raised their production standards. Some have gained from successful collaborations with foreign companies.

Moreover, globalisation has enabled some large Indian companies to emerge as multinationals themselves! Tata Motors (automobiles), Infosys (IT), Ranbaxy (medicines), Asian Paints (paints), Sundaram Fasteners (nuts and bolts) are some Indian companies which are spreading their operations worldwide.

Globalisation has also created new opportunities for companies providing services, particularly those involving IT. The Indian company producing a magazine for the London-based company and call centres are some examples. Besides, a host of services such as data entry, accounting, administrative tasks, engineering are now being done cheaply in countries such as India and are exported to the developed countries.

Steps to Attract Foreign Investment

In recent years, the central and state governments in India are taking special steps to attract foreign companies to invest in India. Industrial zones, called Special Economic Zones (SEZs), are being set up. SEZs are to have world-class facilities: electricity, water, roads, transport, storage, recreational and educational facilities. Companies who set up production units in the SEZs do not have to pay taxes for an initial period of five years.

Government has also allowed flexibility in the labour laws to attract foreign investment. The companies in the organised sector have to obey certain rules that aim to protect the workers’ rights. In the recent years, the government has allowed companies to ignore many of these. Instead of hiring workers on a regular basis, companies hire workers ‘flexibly’ for short periods when there is intense pressure of work. This is done to reduce the cost of labour for the company. However, still not satisfied, foreign companies are demanding more flexibility in labour laws.


Small producers: Compete or perish

For a large number of small producers and workers globalisation has posed major challenges.

Batteries, capacitors, plastics, toys, tyres, dairy products, and vegetable oil are some examples of industries where the small manufacturers have been hit hard due to competition. Several of the units have shut down rendering many workers jobless. The small industries in India employ the largest number of workers (20 million) in the country, next only to agriculture.

Rising Competition

Ravi did not expect that he would have to face a crisis in such a short period of his life as industrialist. Ravi took a loan from the bank to start his own company producing capacitors in 1992 in Hosur, an industrial town in Tamil Nadu. Capacitors are used in many electronic home appliances including tube lights, television etc. Within three years, he was able to expand production and had 20 workers working under him.

His struggle to run his company started when the government removed restrictions on imports of capacitors as per its agreement at WTO in 2001. His main clients, the television companies, used to buy different components including capacitors in bulk for the manufacture of television sets. However, competition from the MNC brands forced the Indian television companies to move into assembling activities for MNCs. Even when some of them bought capacitors, they would prefer to import as the price of the imported item was half the price charged by people like Ravi.

Ravi now produces less than half the capacitors that he produced in the year 2000 and has only seven workers working for him. Many of Ravi’s friends in the same business in Hyderabad and Chennai have closed their units.


Competition and Uncertain Employment

Globalisation and the pressure of competition have substantially changed the lives of workers. Faced with growing competition, most employers these days prefer to employ workers ‘flexibly’. This means that workers’ jobs are no longer secure.

Large MNCs in the garment industry in Europe and America order their products from Indian exporters. These large MNCs with worldwide network look for the cheapest goods in order to maximise their profits. To get these large orders, Indian garment exporters try hard to cut their own costs. As cost of raw materials cannot be reduced, exporters try to cut labour costs. Where earlier a factory used to employ workers on a permanent basis, now they employ workers only on a temporary basis so that they do not have to pay workers for the whole year. Workers also have to put in very long working hours and work night shifts on a regular basis during the peak season. Wages are low and workers are forced to work overtime to make both ends meet.

While this competition among the garment exporters has allowed the MNCs to make large profits, workers are denied their fair share of benefits brought about by globalisation.

A Garment Worker

35-year-old Sushila has spent many years as a worker in garment export industry of Delhi. She was employed as a ‘permanent worker’ entitled to health insurance, provident fund, overtime at a double rate, when Sushila’s factory closed in the late 1990s. After searching for a job for six months, she finally got a job 30 km. away from where she lives. Even after working in this factory for several years, she is a temporary worker and earns less than half of what she was earning earlier. Sushila leaves her house every morning, seven days a week at 7:30 a.m. and returns at 10 p.m. A day off from work means no wage. She has none of the benefits she used to get earlier. Factories closer to her home have widely fluctuating orders and therefore pay even less.

The conditions of work and the hardships of the workers described above have become common to many industrial units and services in India. Most workers, today, are employed in the unorganised sector. Moreover, increasingly conditions of work in the organised sector have come to resemble the unorganised sector. Workers in the organised sector such as Sushila no longer get the protection and benefits that they enjoyed earlier.



The above evidence indicates that not everyone has benefited from globalisation. People with education, skill and wealth have made the best use of the new opportunities. On the other hand, there are many people who have not shared the benefits.

Since globalisation is now a reality, the question is how to make globalisation more ‘fair’?

Fair globalisation would create opportunities for all, and also ensure that the benefits of globalisation are shared better.

The government can play a major role in making this possible. Its policies must protect the interests, not only of the rich and the powerful, but all the people in the country. You have read about some of the possible steps that the government can take. For instance, the government can ensure that labour laws are properly implemented and the workers get their rights. It can support small producers to improve their performance till the time they become strong enough to compete. If necessary, the government can use trade and investment barriers. It can negotiate at the WTO for ‘fairer rules’. It can also align with other developing countries with similar interests to fight against the domination of developed countries in the WTO.

In the past few years, massive campaigns and representation by people’s organisations have influenced important decisions relating to trade and investments at the WTO. This has demonstrated that people also can play an important role in the struggle for fair globalisation.


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