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Current Affairs 28 May 2024

  1. Microplastics
  2. India’s Trade Deficit with Major Trading Partners in FY 2023-24
  3. Decline in India’s Agricultural Trade Highlights Need for Balanced Policy
  4. BIMSTEC
  5. DD Kisan Introduces AI Anchors for Modernized Channel Presentation
  6. Kumaon Himalayas
  7. Stellaria mcclintockiae


Context:

Recently, a study revealed the widespread occurrence of microplastics in the testicles of both humans and canines, potentially associated with decreased sperm count, with polyethene emerging as the predominant microplastic followed by PVC.

Relevance:

GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are microplastics?
  2. Health hazard of microplastics
  3. How did they reach Antarctica?
  4. Effect of microplastics on Environment:

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic debris that are smaller than 5 mm in length, tinier than even a grain of rice.

There are two types of microplastics:

  • Primary microplastics are tiny particles that are purposely designed as such for commercial use, like in cosmetics, nurdles-plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing and in fibres from synthetic textiles like nylon.
  • Secondary microplastics are formed through the degradation of larger plastic items like bottles, fishing nets and plastic bags. This occurs through exposure to the environment, like radiation from the sun, wind and ocean waves.

Health hazard of microplastics

  • It is not yet clear if these microplastics can cross over from the blood stream to deposit in organs and cause diseases.
  • The report point out that the human placenta has shown to be permeable to tiny particles of polystyrene ( 50, 80 and 24 nanometre beads).
  • Experiments on rats where its lungs were exposed to polystryrene spheres (20 nanometre) led to translocation of the nanoparticles to the placental and fetal tissue.
  • Oral administration of microplastics in rats led to accumulation of these in the liver, kidney and gut.
  • Further studies have to be carried out to really assess the impact of plastics on humans.

Effect of Microplastics on Environment:

  • While microplastics have been found across the world, from the world’s deepest ocean floors to the peak of Mount Everest, researchers say that this is the first time that they have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.
  • It shows that the spread of microplastics is so widespread, that even the remotest and least habitable places in the world are now infested by these particles.
  • The presence of these particles can pose a huge threat to Antarctica’s distinctive ecosystem.
  • Microplastics are not biodegradable and once they are found in the environment, they begin to accumulate.
  • They can be toxic for plants and animals.
  • The report claims that ingestion of microplastics by various life forms in the region, from microorganisms like zooplankton to larger predators like king penguins can disrupt their usual biological processes and negatively impact the entire Antarctic food chain.
  • The presence of microplastics in Antarctica can also worsen the impact of climate change.
  • Ice sheets and glaciers are already rapidly melting, and the report suggests that the microplastics deposited in ice and snow can accelerate the melting of the cryosphere — regions where water is in solid form, like the planet’s North and South Poles.
  • Dark-coloured microplastics, which constituted 55% of the samples collected in Aves’ study, are even more harmful than lighter colours, as they are better at absorbing sunlight and retain more heat.

-Source: Down To Earth



Context:

According to the latest data from the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, India has recorded a trade deficit with 9 of its top 10 trading partners in the fiscal year (FY) 2023-24.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. India’s Foreign Trade
  2. Latest Trends
  3. India’s Trade Deficit with its Major Trading Partners

India’s Foreign Trade:

General Overview:

  • Significance: Foreign trade in India includes all (merchandise + services) imports and exports to and from India, accounting for 48.8% of India’s GDP in 2018.
  • Administration: At the Central Government level, trade is administered by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  • Global Ranking (2022): India was number 15 in total exports and number 8 in total imports.
Trading Partners:

Historical Trends:

  • China was India’s top trading partner from 2013-14 till 2017-18 and again in 2020-21.
  • UAE was the largest trading partner before China.
  • The US was the largest partner in 2021-22 and 2022-23.
Exports (Merchandise):

Top Exports:

  • Refined Petroleum: $86.2B
  • Diamonds: $25.9B
  • Packaged Medicaments: $19.5B
  • Jewellery: $12.6B
  • Rice: $11.1B

Top Destinations:

  • United States: $82.9B
  • United Arab Emirates: $31.6B
  • Netherlands: $17.6B
  • China: $15.3B
  • Bangladesh: $13.8B
  • Global Standing (2022): India was the world’s biggest exporter of Diamonds and Rice.
Imports (Merchandise):

Top Imports:

  • Crude Petroleum: $170B
  • Coal Briquettes: $58.7B
  • Gold: $35.8B
  • Petroleum Gas: $32B
  • Diamonds: $26.1B

Top Sources:

  • China: $110B
  • UAE: $51B
  • United States: $48.5B
  • Saudi Arabia: $46.2B
  • Russia: $40.4B
  • Global Standing (2022): India was the world’s biggest importer of Coal Briquettes, Diamonds, Palm Oil, Mixed Mineral or Chemical Fertilizers, and Nitrogenous Fertilizers.

Latest Trends:

FY 2023-24 Data:

  • China overtook the US as India’s largest trading partner with a total two-way commerce of $118.4 billion.
  • India’s exports to China rose by 8.7% to $16.67 billion, while imports increased by 3.24% to $101.7 billion.
  • Exports to the US dipped slightly to $77.5 billion, and imports decreased by about 20% to $40.8 billion (total two-way commerce stood at $118.3 billion).
  • The UAE was the third-largest trading partner of India with $83.6 billion, followed by Russia ($65.7 billion), Saudi Arabia ($43.4 billion), and Singapore ($35.6 billion).

India’s Trade Deficit with its Major Trading Partners:

  • China: Trade deficit rose to $85 billion in 2023-24 from $83.2 billion in 2022-23.
  • Russia: Trade deficit increased to $57.2 billion in 2023-24 from $43 billion in 2022-23.
  • Korea: Trade deficit rose to $14.71 billion in 2023-24 from $14.57 billion in 2022-23.
  • Hong Kong: Trade deficit increased to $12.2 billion in 2023-24 from $8.38 billion in 2022-23.
  • United States: India has a trade surplus of $36.74 billion with the U.S. in 2023-24. The U.S. is one of the few countries with which India has a trade surplus, along with the U.K., Belgium, Italy, France, and Bangladesh.
  • Total Trade Deficit: India’s total trade deficit in the last fiscal narrowed to $238.3 billion from $264.9 billion in the previous fiscal.
Analysis of Trends:
  • Positive Aspect of Imports: Imports can be beneficial if a country is importing raw materials or intermediary products to boost manufacturing and exports.
  • Currency Depreciation: Increased imports can cause the country’s currency to depreciate due to higher demand for foreign currency.
  • Economic Impact: Depreciation makes imports more expensive, worsening the trade deficit and increasing external debt.
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves: Depletion of foreign exchange reserves can signal economic instability to investors, leading to reduced foreign investment.
Strategies to Reduce Trade Deficit:
  • Boosting Exports: Focus on enhancing the export capacity of domestic industries.
  • Reducing Unnecessary Imports: Implement measures to limit the import of non-essential goods.
  • Developing Domestic Industries: Strengthen local industries to reduce dependence on imported goods.
  • Managing Currency and Debt: Implement policies to stabilize the currency and effectively manage external debt levels.

-Source: Times of India



Context:

Recently, data from the Department of Commerce revealed that India’s agricultural exports decreased by 8.2% in 2023-24, mainly due to government restrictions on various commodities. At the same time, agricultural imports fell by 7.9% due to lower edible oil prices. These trends highlight the necessity for a balanced agriculture export-import policy to stabilize the agricultural sector, ensuring both domestic availability and market growth.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Current State of Indian Agricultural Exports and Imports
  2. Key Factors Influencing India’s Agricultural Exports and Imports
  3. Agricultural Export Policy

Current State of Indian Agricultural Exports and Imports

Agricultural Exports:
  • Decline in Exports: India’s agricultural exports fell by 8.2% in the fiscal year 2023-24, totaling USD 48.82 billion, down from USD 53.15 billion in 2022-23.
  • Sugar Exports: Banned from October 2023, reducing exports to USD 2.82 billion from USD 5.77 billion the previous year.
  • Rice Exports: Ban on all white non-basmati rice exports from July 2023 due to domestic availability and food inflation concerns. Only parboiled grain shipments are allowed with a 20% duty, leading to a decline in non-basmati exports from USD 6.36 billion to USD 4.57 billion.
  • Wheat Exports: Stopped in May 2022, falling to USD 56.74 million in 2023-24 from USD 2.12 billion in 2021-22.
  • Onion Exports: Ban lifted in May 2024, with a floor price of USD 550 per tonne and a 40% duty. Exports fell to 17.08 lakh tonnes (USD 467.83 million) from 25.25 lakh tonnes (USD 561.38 million).
  • Growth in Other Commodities: Basmati rice exports reached USD 5.84 billion. Spices exports crossed the USD 4 billion mark. Marine products, castor oil, and other cereals (mainly maize) also saw growth.
Agricultural Imports:
  • Decline in Imports: India’s agricultural imports dropped by 7.9% in 2023-24, due to global market conditions and domestic demand.
  • Edible Oils: Major factor in the decline. Imports of vegetable fats were USD 20 billion in 2022-23, influenced by the Russia-Ukraine war. In 2023-24, the FAO vegetable oil sub-index eased to 123.4 points, reducing the import bill below USD 15 billion.
  • Pulses: Imports nearly doubled to USD 3.75 billion, the highest since 2015-16 and 2016-17 levels, showing continued dependence on foreign sources to meet domestic demand.
Analysis:
  • Export Restrictions: Measures like bans on sugar and rice exports were taken to ensure domestic availability and control food inflation, but they significantly impacted overall export figures.
  • Import Dependence: The reliance on imports for essential commodities like edible oils and pulses indicates a need to boost domestic production to reduce vulnerability to global market fluctuations.
  • Policy Implications: Effective management of trade policies, enhancing domestic production capabilities, and strategic export-import regulations are crucial to balancing domestic needs and international trade dynamics

Key Factors Influencing India’s Agricultural Exports and Imports:

Export Restrictions:

  • Government-imposed curbs on rice, wheat, sugar, and onion exports due to concerns over domestic availability and food inflation.
  • These restrictions significantly declined the exports of these commodities.

Global Price Movements:

  • The UN FAO food price index (base: 2014-16=100) tracks global agri-commodity prices.
  • FAO food price index dropped from an average of 119.1 points in 2013-14 to 96.5 points between 2013-14 and 2019-20, reflecting a global price crash.
  • Post-COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war, the index soared to 140.8 points in 2022-23.
  • In 2023-24, the average FAO index eased to 121.6 points, leading to a decline in India’s edible oil import bill.

Government Policies:

  • Low or zero import duties on pulses and edible oils contradict the goal of boosting domestic production.
  • This policy favors imports over domestic cultivation, potentially discouraging crop diversification and undermining long-term agricultural development.

Agricultural Export Policy:

About:

  • An agricultural export policy comprises government rules, actions, and encouragements aimed at regulating and boosting agricultural goods exports.
  • The policy includes export subsidies, tariff reductions, quality standards, market access agreements, financial incentives, and trade promotion initiatives.
India’s Agriculture Export Policy, 2018:
  • Implemented to leverage India’s agricultural export potential, establish India as a leading force in global agriculture, and increase farmers’ incomes.
  • Objective: Doubling agricultural exports from USD 30+ billion to over USD 60 billion by 2022.
  • Focus on promoting ethnic, organic, traditional, and non-traditional agri-products exports.
  • Establish a monitoring framework for implementation.
Elements:
  • Strategic: Policy measures, infrastructure, logistics, and supporting a holistic approach to boost exports with greater state government involvement.
  • Operational: Focus on clusters, promoting value-added exports, marketing and promoting “Brand India,” attracting private investments, and establishing a strong quality regime and research & development.
Challenges to the Agri-Export Policy:
  • Frequent changes in export policies disrupt market stability and long-term trade relationships.
  • Reduced import duties on pulses and low tariffs on edible oils aim to ensure consumer affordability but conflict with promoting domestic crop diversification.
  • Populist measures during election seasons undermine fiscal discipline and agricultural sector financial health.
  • Insufficient investment in agricultural R&D, currently around 0.5% of agricultural GDP, needs to be increased for substantial growth.
  • Ensuring consistent quality and compliance with international sanitary and phytosanitary standards is challenging due to pests and diseases.
  • Competition in pricing and quality and exchange rate fluctuations influence the competitiveness of Indian agricultural exports.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has recently achieved an important milestone with the charter of the grouping coming into force on 20th May 2024.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests, Important International groupings), Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About BIMSTEC
  2. History of Formation of the BIMSTEC
  3. Significance of BIMSTEC

About BIMSTEC

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia:
    • Bangladesh
    • Bhutan
    • India
    • Nepal
    • Sri Lanka
    • Myanmar (South-east Asia)
    • Thailand (South-east Asia)
  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are the member states dependent on the Bay of Bengal.
  • Its members lie in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity. BIMSTEC not only connects South and Southeast Asia, but also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal.
  • Fourteen priority sectors of cooperation have been identified and several BIMSTEC centres have been established to focus on those sectors.
  • The permanent secretariat of the BIMSTEC is in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • The BIMSTEC uses the alphabetical order for the Chairmanship which has been taken in rotation commencing with Bangladesh (1997–1999).

History of Formation of the BIMSTEC

  • In 1997, a new sub-regional grouping was formed in Bangkok under the name BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation).
  • Following the inclusion of Myanmar on 22 December 1997 during a special Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, the Group was renamed ‘BIMST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation).
  • In 2004, at the first Summit the grouping was renamed as BIMSTEC or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.

Significance of BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC acts as a platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.
  • Around one-fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the Bay of Bengal every year.
  • Important Connectivity Projects related to BIMSTEC
  • Kaladan Multimodal Project – links India and Myanmar.
  • Asian Trilateral Highway – connecting India and Thailand through Myanmar.
  • Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement – for seamless flow of passenger and cargo traffic.

Strategic Significance for India

  • BIMSTEC Enables India to pursue three core policies:
    • Neighbourhood First- primacy to the country’s immediate periphery;
    • Act East- connect India with Southeast Asia; and
    • Economic development of India’s North Eastern states- by linking them to the Bay of Bengal region via Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • India has moved from Look East Policy to Act East Policy and Indo Pacific cooperation through its diaspora, culture and connectivity. This has led to India’s goodwill in the region.
  • Allows India to counter China’s creeping influence in countries around the Bay of Bengal due to the spread of its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Physical connectivity with BIMSTEC would also help India integrate itself with ASEAN’s Master Plan of Connectivity 2025.
  • A new platform for India to engage with its neighbours with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) becoming dysfunctional because of differences between India and Pakistan.
  • BIMSTEC suddenly received special attention as New Delhi chose to treat it as a more practical instrument for regional cooperation over a faltering SAARC.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, DD Kisan introduced two Artificial Intelligence anchors as part of its initiative to revamp the television channel’s presentation.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

AI Anchors: AI Krish and AI Bhoomi

Overview:

  • Names: AI Krish and AI Bhoomi.
  • Languages: Capable of speaking 50 Indian and foreign languages.
  • Functionality: These AI anchors work continuously, providing news updates 24/7 without stopping or getting tired.
  • Accessibility: Farmer viewers across all states can access these anchors.
Information Provided:
  • Agricultural research updates (national and global).
  • Trends in agriculture mandis.
  • Weather changes.
  • Information on government schemes.

Key Facts about DD Kisan:

Overview:

  • Establishment: The only TV channel in India dedicated to farmers, established by the Government of India on May 26, 2015.
  • Objective: To keep farmers informed about weather changes, global and local market conditions, enabling them to make timely and appropriate decisions.
Functions and Goals:
  • Progressive Farming: Showcases efforts of progressive farmers to inspire and educate the agricultural and rural community.
  • Holistic Development: Aims to create an environment of holistic development for farmers by providing them with necessary information and education.
  • Three-Dimensional Agriculture Concept: Focuses on balanced farming, animal husbandry, and plantation to strengthen agricultural practices.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the Supreme Court halted the 90 acres project in ecologically fragile and seismic-prone lower Himalayan ranges in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Kumaon Himalayas

Geographic Location

  • Region: West-central section of the Himalayas in northern India.
  • Boundaries: Extends between the Sutlej River in the west and the Kali River in the east.
  • Composition: Encompasses parts of the Siwalik Range in the south and the Great Himalayas in the north, primarily within Uttarakhand, northwest of Nepal.
Major Peaks and Lakes
  • Highest Peaks: Nanda Devi and Kamet.
  • Prominent Lakes: Naini Lake, Sattal, Bhimtal, Naukuchiya Tal.

Key Hill Stations

  • Notable Hill Stations: Nainital, Ranikhet, Almora.

Cultural Significance

  • Indigenous Tribes: Home to Tharus, Bhutiyas, Jaunsaris, Buksas, and Rajiswhose.

Environmental Concerns

  • Fragility: Recognized as an ecologically fragile and seismic-prone region.

Shiwalik Range

Overview

  • Location: Sub-Himalayan Mountain Range stretching 1,600 km from the Teesta River, through Sikkim, Nepal, and India, into northern Pakistan.
  • Alignment: Runs parallel to the Himalayan system from Haridwar on the Ganges to the Beas River.

Elevation and Composition

  • Height: Average elevation ranges from 900 to 1,200 meters.
  • Geology: Primarily composed of low sandstone and conglomerate hills, with solidified and up-heaved detritus from the greater Himalayan range, featuring an intermediate valley lying between the outer hills and Mussoorie.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, a new plant species found on the high, muddy slopes of the Nelliyampathy hills in Kerala’s Palakkad district has been named as Stellaria mcclintockiae.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Stellaria mcclintockiae: A New Species

  • Classification
  • Genus: Stellaria
  • Family: Caryophyllaceae

Features

  • Growth Habit: Annual herb reaching up to 15 cm in height.
  • Habitat: Found exclusively in the Nelliyampathy hills, at elevations between 1,250 and 1,400 meters.

Unique Characteristics:

  • Differentiated by its petals, pollen morphology, bracts, sepals, and seed architecture.
  • First reported species of the genus Stellaria from South India.

Conservation Status

  • Recommendation: Researchers suggest that Stellaria mcclintockiae should be classified as critically endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria.

-Source: The Hindu


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