back to article Out of nowhere, India requires PC and server makers to get an import license

India yesterday changed its trade rules to require manufacturers of many types of computers to secure an import license to bring their goods into the country. The unheralded move, announced in a slightly off-center scanned PDF from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, adds laptops, tablets, all-in-one personal computers, and …

  1. gurugeorge

    My Dad’s driver in India earns about the minimum wage for a rural area in Kerala - ie 20,000 rupees /£200 ish a month - yet he has a £300 smartphone - he’s young and prioritizes it.

    I guess it’s not that different from a call center worker in in north England who gets £1000 a month after tax spending £1800 on an iPhone pro max (they all have them).

    Personally, my 2.5 year old iphone is faster than my 2 year old laptop for most things despite laptop on paper being 3x as powerful. - not sure if it’s apples optimization but could be. Even editing 4k video my old phone is 3x faster than my PC.

    1. unimaginative Bronze badge

      I would guess its not Apple doing things right, so much as desktop OSes and software doing things wrong.

      Mobile software tends to be a lot less bloated. So are mobile versions of web sites.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "internet outages are frequent and imposed for capricious reasons"

    Okay, India is a growing country, gradually climbing up to the status of first-world nation. It's a big country, with a massive market. Things will sort themselves out, with time.

    Internet outages are imposed ? Well, there's a certain little constellation that should be able to alleviate that problem, so a proper comms setup should guarantee connectivity if that is necessary. Costs more, but if we're talking about attracting Big Business, there's money for that.

    The state of roads, however, is a big point. It's all well and nice to set up shop in India, but if your shiny new production center can't run full speed because the ressources aren't getting there fast enough, and if it also has trouble shipping the goods, then Big Business is not going to like going through the hassle and might just prefer paying for the license and leaving the problems to local distributors.

    But this move is a bit curious on one point : Big Business is already looking to India as a production platform, because dealing with China is apparently no longer "in", so why the license ? It doesn't make sense to threaten the person who is already visiting your house as a prospective buyer.

  3. DS999 Silver badge

    It worked for phones

    The main reason Apple set up some manufacturing in India was because India levied quite heavy taxes on imports that were waived for locally manufactured products, though Apple has expanded their Indian factories beyond in-country consumption levels due to wanting to diversify their manufacturing from being quite so heavily dependent on China.

    India is now Apple's fastest growing market, and they had 5% of smartphone sales in India last quarter, and projected to be 7% by the end of the year. Which doesn't sound like a lot, until you consider the size of their population.

    I'm not sure about the sales potential for Macs there, but it would seem to be worth the while of the big PC makers to set up some manufacturing there if they haven't already. If for no other reason than to diversify from China, which is where the overwhelming majority of PCs and servers are currently made. I have a feeling the applications for those import licenses will run into a lot of red tape unless they do lol

    This isn't a trick every country can pull, but a country the size of India and that can easily compete with China in manufacturing cost can.

    1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: It worked for phones

      But did it? Most likely Apple is merely assembling their phones in India from Chinese sourced components. Apple's main manufacturing base is in China and will remain there for the time being.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: It worked for phones

        Foxconn assembles from the parts Apple sources in whatever location, but they make some of them on site like the exterior/case. Sure the supply chain in China is a separate issue but India didn't say phones could only avoid the tariffs if every part was made in-country. Sure more of the parts may come from China than other countries but iPhones couldn't be assembled from Chinese only parts anymore than they could American only or Indian only.

        None of the main chips (SoC, cellular, wifi/BT, DRAM, NAND) are made in China, they're made in Taiwan/Korea/USA. Neither are the cameras (Japan) or the display (Korea) so while it is likely the majority of the parts by number come from China the overwhelming majority of the parts by VALUE come from outside China. Of course some of those parts may be made from subparts that come from China (i.e. maybe Sony gets some of the parts used to make the cameras from China and I believe they get the lenses for at least some of the cameras from Germany) and some subparts have sub-sub-parts...

    2. Lurko

      Re: It worked for phones

      "but a country the size of India and that can easily compete with China in manufacturing cost"

      In theory, not in practice. China addressed the problem by using the power of the CCP to push through all the changes needed to improve infrastructure (power, telecoms, roads, railways). Where China doesn't even pretend to be a democracy the state could dictate that roads, warehouses, ports, power lines etc would be built, and the state would print the money to make it happen. A bottleneck on construction materials? Just tell a state owned enterprise to build a new steel works or cement factory. A shortage of workers, just move some people in. China used whatever means suited to ensure that development did happen as required - clear away housing for a new rail link or port? Job done. Complainers and nimbys? No we didn't see any. Environmental activists? What are those? As an example result, the pearl River Delta is rapidly growing in the direction of a single city with a population around 85m.

      In the whole history of trade across the world, import tariffs have been ineffective as a long term means of improving the economy of the importer - all it does is encourage inefficiency, retaliation, and higher costs. If they are serious. India needs to (1) achieve a step change on infrastructure, but the poor performance on roads, railways, water and power so far doesn't bode well. If they can start to get infrastructure resolved they then need (2) to differentiate against China on human rights, geo-political reliability, and openness to two way trade. And finally, they need (3) to address the sclerotic bureaucracy and corruption that are both endemic across India.

      Can anybody here see that happening? I can't, and that's a shame for the world's largest democracy.

  4. Raj

    Bulk of India can’t afford smartphones ?

    Simon has clearly not been to India lately. Or looked at the data for that matter.

    India is a very young country. About 60% of population in the 18-60 prime working age group. That’s about 800 million people. As of 2022, there are 660 million smartphone users in India:

    But never mind data, just go to India. Smartphones are central to the UPI digital payment system. In any big or small city pretty much every adult around you has one. You scan and pay for almost everything using UPI. Vegetables from the roadside vendor cart, the donation box at the temple, the autorickshaw, petrol stands. You can survive without cash around large parts of India outside the really rural parts with just a smartphone and UPI. There are blogs out there of bikers riding from the north to south talking about just needing their phone all the while.

    Anyone who claims the bulk of India can’t afford or use smartphones clearly hasn’t been there recently. In the past 12 months smartphones have been used in India to transact an aggregate 90 billion transactions amounting to $2 trillion -in value - at actual current exchange rate, not some purchasing power basis.

    The Register seems largely blind to the fintech revolution going on in India.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Bulk of India can’t afford smartphones ?

      The most telling stat I saw was that Apple has 5% of the smartphone market in India, expected to be at 7% by the end of the year. Not nearly as large as their share in China, let alone the US but the article said that most of them were iPhone 14 & 13 with a smaller and smaller share being SE every year. iPhones aren't cheap, and the exchange rates probably make them more expensive in India than in the US.

      I'm sure there are a lot of people who can only afford the most basic phones, but there are Android smartphones selling for under the equivalent of $40 now (and would be far cheaper when they're a couple years old) so I doubt there's anyone who "can't afford" a smartphone anymore. Some people must looking at the prices smartphones are selling for in the US and think the cheapest price they see is as low as they go.

      Apple would not have been stating over the last year or two that they expect to see their biggest sales growth over the next few years in India if they didn't know there were enough consumers who can afford them, or will be able to afford them as they get older and their earnings increase. The pivot from the west being overly dependent on China is probably already providing a pretty good boost to India's GDP. Those younger people you're talking about are in the right place and the right time to benefit from that the way China benefited over the past few decades.

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Bulk of India can’t afford smartphones ?

      NPCI rolled out 123pay last year for people without smartphones. Still 400 million feature phone users in India.

  5. b0llchit Silver badge

    Good, bad? Paywall!

    And then, other countries will require export licenses for the stuff India imports for said PCs and servers.

  6. 3arn0wl

    Call it a carbon tax

    Just my opinion, but, things ought to be made locally. The idea of globalisation has served Western consumers and big business well, to the severe detriment, in many cases, of the producers.

    1. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Call it a carbon tax

      I agree, but before being a "consumer" one must first be a "producer" of something. So if globalisation is bad for producers, then it is also bad for consumers ... because they never get to be consumers in the first place. Or, alternatively, globalisation is based on money growing on trees, in which case one can indeed be a consumer without being a producer ... but that ends always in the same way: hyperinflation.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Call it a carbon tax

      We have known that was a bad idea since 1776

  7. unimaginative Bronze badge

    Most people in the West are clueless about what is happening in Asia.

    They think the West still dominates the world economically and militarily. There is definitely some racism in this - notice how the rivals they fear are the (white) Russians rather than the far more economically and militarily capable (and more ambitious in terms of empire building) Chinese.

    The EU still talks about a multi-polar world with itself as one of the superpowers - while its economy is in the slowest growing region of the world and shrinking part of the world economy. Absolutely delusional. In the meantime they are cracking down on immigration which would give them the population they need to keep up. TO be fair the US and Canada are growing through immigration, much of it highly skilled, so that part of the West has a better outlook.

    1. Bbuckley

      I think most people in India and the other third world countries don't get what runs the world. It's money. Not bodies. It does not matter how many 'potential market' there is in a third world country if there is no money there to feed said "market".

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      "... immigration, much of it highly skilled." Ha ha ha ha ha...

  8. Bebu Silver badge


    Looks like another wheel has fallen off that juggernaut ;)

    Manufacturing locally makes sense for a country the size of India but, unless they get their heads around quality control / assurance, imports will always be sought after for reasons other than status.

    I suspect if the whole manufacturing supply chain becomes highly automated rendering irrelevant the price of labour, global corporations will choose the location of their facilities purely based on minimizing taxation and other financial incentives offered by the jurisdiction.

  9. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge


    India's policies are becoming erratic and unpredictable. What does it take to get a license? No one seems to know.

    I mean this will only stop Indians from acquiring computers and hurt the Indian economy, because computers are needed no matter where they come from. Will some Indian government agency inspect every computer shipped from China for malware and covert spy circuitry? This would severely diminish their economic value if they're kept in quarantine for too long.

    This will most likely only prod manufacturers to set up assembly operations in India just to work around the restrictions. India would do well to improve its infrastructure before imposing such draconian legislation.

  10. JoaoRichter

    Remebers me the analogous situation when in 1976 IBM LEFT INDIA !!!

  11. ocelot

    I can still remember the time when India previously managed to strangle its electronics and computer industry by insisting on local manufacture..

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