There is a common link between the Taj Mahal, the Ajanta-Ellora caves, the Sanchi Stupa, the famous temples of south India, the terracotta pots, the exquisitely designed cane furniture, phulkari textiles, and jute jewellery. All these are manifestations of skilled Indian craftsmanship. Through monuments and antique souvenirs, India has managed to preserve the country's diverse culture and heritage and has earned a global appreciation for its unique craftsmanship.
Demand for Indian handicrafts
The rich and exotic appeal of high-quality handicraft goods produced by communities across India has not only successfully attracted demand from the domestic market but also from the global market, making India the world’s major exporter and supplier of handicrafts. According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), with more than seven million regional artisans and more than 67,000 exporters/export houses promoting regional art and craftsmanship in the domestic and global markets, the Indian handicrafts industry is highly fragmented.
In an interview with BE in 2018, O. P. Prahladka, Chairman, Export Promotion Council of Handicrafts (EPCH) said that the products that have good export viability include art metal ware, wood ware, hand printed textile and scarves, embroidered and crocheted items, shawls, zari products, imitation jewelleries, incense sticks and perfumes (attar) among others.
According to the Annual Report 2018-19, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, “India’s textile and clothing products including handlooms and handicrafts are exported to more than hundred countries. However, USA and EU account for nearly half of these exports.” Market insiders say that the other major destinations include the UAE, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Egypt.
Prakash Shah, Chairman, Trade Promotion and Business Development Committee, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCC&I), told BE, “When we organise the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) fair in Delhi, almost 10,000 foreigners fly in every year to attend this fair. There are 5000 stalls from all over India, showcasing the best of Indian craftsmanship. The response of this fair shows the demand for Indian handicrafts abroad.”
The handicrafts exports during 2015-16 were recorded at Rs 21,557.12 crore that surged up to Rs 24,392.39 crore in 2016-17 with a gross increase in exports of 13.15% in rupee terms and 10.52% in dollar terms. The handicraft exports during 2018-19 went ahead to the tune of Rs 16,825.75 crore during April-November 2018-19.
Challenges and opportunities
According to a source from the Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation (HHEC), there are several challenges in the export of handicraft and handloom products which include pricing, lack of skilled artisans and the availability of raw materials. While reacting to the challenges, Shah said that the artisans are unaware of the avenues. He said, “Most of the artisans are illiterate and need education. In order to do so, we face challenges because we have to go to every corner of the country to train them.” The absence of a systematic marketing network has also been a discouraging factor in this sector. However, the government and various organisations are trying to address these issues.
In order to boost exports, the government has undertaken various schemes. According to the Annual Report, “The Merchandise Export for India Scheme (MEIS) was introduced under Foreign Trade Policy 2015-2020 to offset infrastructural inefficiencies and associated costs involved in export of products, especially those having high export intensity, employment potential and to enhance India’s export competitiveness.”
Under the Export Oriented Unit (EOU) Scheme (as given in Chapter VI of the Foreign Trade Policy), one can import goods without payment of custom duty and export them without any restriction. The Duty Drawback Scheme is operated by the customs department where on every shipping bill duty drawback is paid in the bank account of the exporter. Additionally, as informed by Shah, the EPCH has allowed the north-eastern states to set up stalls free of cost in order to boost their participation in trade fairs.
An escalating inflow of tourists along with lower labour costs, improved real estate, retail business and an increasing use of the internet and e-commerce have gradually pushed growth for this sector.
Internet adoption by Indian handicraft designers and the rising influence of the e-commerce sector has been a huge benefit for the local artisans. It has changed their way of doing business and linked them to the global marketplace. E-commerce platforms, especially luxury websites, are bridging the much-widened chasm between the country’s artisan clusters and the potential market, thereby providing exporters a promising scope for expansion. The digital medium has not only been tremendously successful in matching this demand and supply by positioning them to achieve global recognition, it has also handy tool for promoting the unique flavours of Indian artisans in the overseas luxury market.