India set to see average monsoon rains this year

Rain drops are seen on crops before they are harvested in Burha Mayong village, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Gauhati, India, May 25, 2015. (AP)
Updated 16 April 2019
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India set to see average monsoon rains this year

  • Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybeans

NEW DELHI: India is likely to see average monsoon rains this year, the state-run weather office said on Monday, which should support agricultural production and economic growth in Asia’s third-biggest economy, where half of the farmland lacks irrigation.
Monsoon rainfall is expected to be 96 percent of the long-term average, M. Rajeevan, secretary at the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told a news conference.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 centimeters for the entire four-month season beginning June.
“Overall, the country is expected to have well distributed rainfall scenario during the 2019 monsoon season, which will be beneficial to farmers in the country during the ensuing Kharif (summer-planting) season,” the IMD said in its forecast.
Skymet, the country’s only private weather forecasting agency, earlier this month forecast rainfall could be below normal this year.
Monsoon rains, the lifeblood for India’s farm-dependent $2.6 trillion economy, arrive on the southern tip of Kerala state around June 1 and retreat from the desert state of Rajasthan by September.
After a wet spell, sowing of summer-sown crops gets off to a strong start, boosting crop yields and output which in turn raises rural incomes and usually lifts consumer spending in India.
If plentiful monsoon rains lift agricultural production this year, that could keep food prices under control. Subdued overall inflation could also add to pressure on India’s central bank to cut interest rates.
“IMD’s prelim forecast, showing near-normal and well distributed rainfall, will bode well for near-term food inflation,” said Madhavi Arora, lead economist at Edelweiss Securities, FX and Rates.
The next policy review by India’s central bank is scheduled for June 6, after the country’s election. Millions of Indians are casting their votes in a mammoth general election, spread over seven weeks.
On the downside, higher production could mean farmers continue to get hit by low crop prices, a major cause for concern in rural India, where most Indians live, in the past two years.
After falling for five straight months, retail food prices in India rose 0.30 percent in March from a year earlier.
Last month, a senior IMD official told Reuters that this year’s monsoon was likely to be robust and healthy provided there wasn’t a surprise El Nino phenomenon.
“El Nino is weakening and we expect that El Nino will get weakened further. There is no reason to be worried about El Nino,” Rajeevan said.
A strong El Nino, marked by a warming of the sea surface on the Pacific Ocean, can cause severe drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India, while drenching other parts of the world such as the US Midwest and Brazil in rains.
The emergence of a strong El Nino triggered back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015, for only the fourth time in over a century, driving some Indian farmers to penury and suicide.

ECONOMIC GROWTH
Good rains will spur the planting of crops such as rice, corn, cane, cotton and soybeans.
Stronger agricultural production would help support India’s economy. It is still the world’s fastest-growing major economy, but annual growth slowed to 6.6 percent in the December quarter, from 7.0 percent in the previous period and the slowest in five quarters.
The monsoon usually covers the half of the country in the first 15 days. The rains reach central India’s soybean areas by the third week of June and western cotton-growing areas by the first week of July.
India’s weather office will update its forecast in the first week of June.
However, on average, the IMD has forecast accurately only once every five years over the past two decades, even after taking into account an error band of plus or minus 5 percentage points.


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.