Competition from China and its benign regional role will push India towards growth, says business risk analyst Supriya
By Rahul Kumar
New Delhi, July 6: India’s economy will eventually pick up despite inflation and challenges like domestic strife. On the other hand, global unrest looms as public resentment against governments grows over food and fuel inflation.
In Canary Wharf, one of London’s top destinations, India Narrative meets Supriya Ravishankar, who works as a risk analyst at Sibylline, a strategic consultancy that identifies opportunities and forecasts risks for the corporate sector.
As a South Asia Analyst, Ravishankar constantly monitors South Asian countries to provide analytical insights to Sibylline’s clients, which could include organizations ranging from the hospitality industry to publishing and media, finance and defense as well as international development organizations.
She says her job as a risk analyst involves constantly monitoring news, cross-checking information, breaking down complex events and presenting them to clients. “It’s as much a job of communication as of advice,” she says. A Cambridge and London School of Economics alumnus, Ravishankar previously worked with the Washington-based Center of Social and Economic Progress (formerly Brookings India) and Rise to Peace.
Excerpts from the interview:
IN: You study and analyze South Asia on a daily basis. What is your prediction on India?
Ravishankar: India is a massive economy. Despite its inflation problems, it continues to grow relative to its role in the region. Moreover, its competition with China keeps it on its guard.
I think I see a fundamental shift taking place in India’s approach to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). India is planning to sign the same with the UK, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU) to name a few, in some way rectifying the damage to the reputation it suffered after leaving the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
India is an export oriented country, therefore, I see India signing more FTAs so that trade will flourish. He also wants more control over the terms of trade agreements, so I think he prefers bilateral rather than multilateral pacts.
As for the concerns, the West was initially worried about India turning inward through the Atmanirbhar Bharat program.
Another concern relates to the regulation of social media, freedom of expression and the fallout from community polarization. These issues are of concern to investors, primarily in the UK, Europe and the US, in terms of the impact this may have on their assets, staff and the general business environment.
On China, we believe that tensions between India and China will remain protracted, but neither side wants an escalation. The India-China rivalry has a political side and a commercial side.
IN: The world is in turmoil because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and a looming food and energy crisis. What is your forecast on the world situation?
Ravishankar: Economists predict that the world will soon sink into a recession. Worryingly, if this happens, it could well be followed by popular unrest that will disrupt business operations. We can already see growing discontent against governments, which can lead to public protests across the world.
Countries are likely to become more protectionist and develop inward-looking policies, especially on food security. Indeed, in the days to come, food security will continue to become a major concern for governments.
The energy crisis is also a major concern, especially for businesses, as it directly impacts manufacturing and operations. Europe will continue to witness an energy crisis and inflation, but developing countries in Africa and Asia are likely to be hit harder in the longer term by the food and energy crisis.
In my opinion, however, climate change will be the number one long-term concern and South Asia will be affected. Floods, heat waves and rising sea levels are already affecting countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives. The added difficulty is that solving the climate crisis requires global cooperation. Also, many countries do not have the means to tackle climate problems, the business environment in these countries will remain particularly vulnerable.
IN: South Asia is so dominated by India in almost every way, how do you strategize for the region as a whole?
Ravishankar: Most of my work comes from studying India and Pakistan. Regional and national events also define my work. For example, reporting on Afghanistan increased after the Taliban took over, as companies wanted to know if it would affect the security situation in neighboring countries like Pakistan.
Or in Pakistan, the focus shifted to the political situation with the no-confidence motion against then Prime Minister Imran Khan. In Pakistan, we also looked at the energy and food crisis. Possible internet shutdowns, domestic unrest and its impact on basic living conditions, and the Balochistan insurgency. We also tracked various attacks taking place in cities such as Karachi.
Before the crisis in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the spread of Covid-19 was a big concern for customers. We were analyzing the fallout from travel bans, lockdowns and their impact on supply chains in South Asia.
Going further back, we tracked India’s domestic unrest over the Citizenship Act (CAA) and farmers’ protests, especially in terms of supply chain bottlenecks due to blocked highways. People were also keen to know the fallout from the banning of Chinese apps and Chinese companies after the clash in the Galwan Valley.
So I don’t look at South Asia as a whole but rather at individual countries, but I also sometimes have a regional perspective in my analysis.
IN: Many of them are delicate domestic issues. How to stay away from a controversy? Where do you draw the line in your analysis?
Ravishankar: Companies want to know how protests and domestic unrest affect the internet, public transport and supply chains. They want to know how big these protests are, how violent they are likely to be, and bystander issues (how will people who are not part of these protests be affected). It is the objective.
We do not give our personal opinion on human rights and domestic politics.
IN: The Quad is a geostrategic initiative. Why would Quad activities interest you?
Ravishankar: All developments related to India-China and India-Pakistan are of interest.
When the United States thinks of balancing China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it thinks of India. The United States alone cannot guarantee complete security in the vast Indo-Pacific because it is simply too vast. So India needs to keep an eye on China’s growing footprint in the IOR. I believe India will be at the forefront in the Indo-Pacific as it plays into its own security requirements.
Tensions between India and China are worrying businesses. I would examine whether the competition between the two Asian giants will increase and whether this will spread from the IOR.
Above all, our clients want to know about the conflict between China and the United States and how it will play out in different geographical areas. They want to know if this can lead to bottlenecks in supply chains or trade bans.
IN: You mentioned the major South Asian economies, but what are businesses interested in in Afghanistan?
Ravishankar: It’s the international NGOs that are interested in Afghanistan, not so much the corporate sector. There is interest around topics such as major terrorist attacks, the severity of the food security crisis, the human rights situation. NGOs are also interested in women’s rights, governance by the Taliban.
Last year, there were fears that China was trying to fill the gap the United States vacated and extract minerals. But that concern turned out to be largely unfounded. We see that China’s diplomatic interest has increased in Afghanistan but nothing concrete seems to have happened on the ground.
IN: What is your assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka?
Ravishankar: I think the world had an idea of the situation in Sri Lanka, but no one thought it would get so bad.
Businesses began to take an interest in Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday bombings. Lots of things happened after that, including Covid-19 and economic collapse. Now the focus is on the stability of the government and how it will emerge from the financial crisis.
The unrest and the energy crisis in the country are of interest to the world. The reality on the ground may well be far worse than the reports emerging in the media.