Imports of paper and paperboard in India have jumped 47 per cent from ₹7,839 crore in FY22 to ₹11,513 crore in FY23, according to the latest data issued by the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence & Statistics (DGCI&S).

Imports from China have increased a stupendous 112 per cent, and from ASEAN countries by 97 per cent during the year.

While the growth in imports have been across all the paper grades, the highest jump has been witnessed in the imports of uncoated writing and printing paper at 102 per cent, followed by coated paper and paperboard at 51 per cent, and tissue 41 per cent.

The top import sources of uncoated writing and printing paper are Indonesia, Singapore and China while that of coated paper and paperboard are China, Japan and South Korea.

According to Pawan Agarwal, President, Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA), imports of paper and paperboard into India have been increasing rapidly in the last three years, despite adequate domestic production capacity. While the domestic industry struggles with the challenge of producing paper and paperboard at competitive costs due to rising raw material and energy prices, substantial quantities are being imported at significantly lower costs, benefitting from zero import duty under the free trade agreements with ASEAN, South Korea and Japan, as well as preferential import duties from China under the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA). These countries take advantage of India’s low import duty rates, making it an attractive destination for diverting their excess inventory.

Apart from the overall negative impact of duty-free imports on the domestic paper industry, he stated that it is rendering most small and medium paper mills in India commercially unviable and endangering the livelihoods of thousands of farmers engaged in agro/farm forestry and the supply of wood to paper mills. Such consequences run counter to the principles of “Make in India”, “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” and “Vocal for Local”.

Rohit Pandit, Secretary General, IPMA, added that to provide a level-playing field to the domestic industry, paper and paperboard should be kept in the exclusion list, with no preferential treatment in terms of import tariff, while urgently reviewing the existing FTAs and formulating new FTAs. Further, suitable safeguard, anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports of various grades of paper should be expeditiously imposed, once recommended by the Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR).

IPMA has also called for the issue of quality control orders (QCOs) by the Government on all grades of paper and making BIS certification mandatory. Issuance of QCOs for different grades of paper will not only assure supply of quality products to the Indian consumers but also check the import of sub-standard products into the country.