India is the world’s second-biggest gold consumer and lower demand there could rein in global prices that have risen 8 percent since mid-December, although a drop in imports of the metal would help India reduce its trade deficit.
Gold consumption in 2018 will likely be between 700 and 800 tons versus 727 tons last year, Somasundaram PR, the managing director of WGC’s Indian operations, said on Tuesday. Indian demand has averaged 840 tons over the last 10 years.
Gold demand will lag because of a higher goods and services tax (GST) on bullion purchases imposed in 2017 and measures to track gold purchases, he said.
In July, the GST on gold was raised to 3 percent from 1.2 percent. India has also made it mandatory for customers to disclose their tax code, or Permanent Account Number, for high-value gold purchases.
The government moves have disrupted the business of the small jewelers that account for nearly two-thirds of India’s total sales, Somasundaram said.
“More changes are coming in like hallmarking, responsible gold sourcing, all this will continue to disrupt the industry ... It will take two years for India to reach normal demand level,” he said.
Gold is a mainstay of Indian culture, serving as the primary vehicle for household savings for hundreds of millions of people in Asia’s third-largest economy.
Gold demand in the country rose 9 percent in 2017 from 2016 to 726.9 tons as jewelry demand increased 12 percent from a year ago, the WGC said in a report published on Tuesday.
India’s imports of gold ore jumped 73 percent in 2017 from the year before to a record 245.7 tons as the import tax on the semi-pure alloy made by miners is 0.65-percent lower than on refined gold, Somasundaram said.
Dore imports will remain robust even in 2018 due to the duty difference and huge installed refining capacity of 1,450 tons, he said.
Gold smuggling in India has surged since India raised its import duty to 10 percent in August, 2013 in an effort to narrow a gaping current account deficit.
Smugglers brought around 120 tons of gold into the country in 2017, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018 unless the government reduces the import tax, Somasundaram said.