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E-commerce exports: Shining a light on ‘Made in India’ products

E-commerce exports: Shining a light on our heritage and new-age products
From gold and silver coins to paperless payments; from the Hundi credit system to export financing; from a single dockyard at Lothal in Gujarat to 13 major trading ports across India1; from a few city-states in Mesopotamia to more than 200 countries — according to historians, India’s export story has charted an evolutionary route as complex and long-winding as the county’s history itself.

As far back as the Indus Valley civilization, India’s economy is said to have depended significantly on trade, facilitated by major advances in transport — from bullock carts to boats. Historians have found evidence of a vast maritime trade network between the Harappan and Mesopotamian civilizations.
Tea export from India
The Harappans are said to have exported cotton, gemstones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise, gold, silver, terracotta figurines, and pottery through maritime routes charted across the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf; they imported raw materials — minerals from Iran and Afghanistan, jade from China, lead and copper from other parts of India — to be fashioned into jewellery, pottery, metal items, and more2.

Innovation, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, trade, and commerce are embedded in the socio-economic fabric of India. In ancient India, trade consolidated a nation with diverse cultures and helped define its unified identity globally. It is a legacy that has helped us attain our current status in the world economy and global trade as the world’s fifth-largest economy3 with the fastest growth rate among G-20 countries.

Today, India’s exports is not just defined by its heritage, it is also helping showcase the country’s entrepreneurial prowess, and innovation to the world. With the emergence of e-commerce exports, this phenomenon is now playing out right down to the district level. On one hand, e-commerce exports is promoting innovation in new products such as toys and beauty and wellness products rooted in Ayurveda, while on the other, it is catalyzing a resurgence of our traditional small industries, arts, and handicrafts by making GI-tagged and artisanal products available to international customers in countries across the world. In doing this, cross-border e-commerce is enabling our cultural economy to thrive.

India’s global trade down the ages: A comparative study

Ancient India: A pioneer in trade

Modern India: Taking digital strides

Evolution of trade networks
Historians have reported that there were extensive trade networks between the Harappan and Mesopotamian civilizations. From 15th-19th century, India is said to have strengthened its trade routes with Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the coastal regions of Europe. India was well connected to the famous Silk Road, a network of routes connecting China with the Middle East and Europe. The Spice Route, Salt Route, Incense Route, Tin Route, and Amber Road were other routes in ancient India.
Today, India trades with 224 countries and has signed 13 FTAs5. Its new routes include the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) covering 13 countries, the India-Australia-Japan route, the Suez Canal trade route, and upcoming routes like the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. It also has agreements like the India-Bangladesh Protocol and the Motor Vehicles Agreement at the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal level to facilitate trade. Amazon Global Selling offers access to millions of customers worldwide from anywhere in India.
Made in India: Always in demand
Since the middle-Harappan Phase, India was catering to an export demand for textiles, spices, and special stones in Mesopotamia. Historians note that India exported fabrics and textiles, handicrafts, and spices from leading trade centers like Pataliputra, Mathura, Varanasi, Ujjain, Surat, and Tamralipti. In the 18th century, exquisite products like velvet satin from Bengal, Arani muslin from South India, weapons like swords and daggers, and silver, bronze, and copperware for houses were in demand.
Ancient trade epicenters like Ujjain and Surat are still leading global export hubs, exporting products like home décor (blue pottery), jewellery like kundan and thewa, and textiles like kalamkari and batik. Demand coexists for modern products like STEM toys and heritage ones like Channapatna toys, Madhubani paintings, and terracotta figurines. On Amazon Global selling, the top product categories being exported from India are home, kitchen, toys, luggage, beauty, health and personal care, and office products.
From barter system to paperless payments
Payments in India can be traced back to the barter system, which involved exchange of mostly perishable goods, till the use of cowrie shells and emergence of gold and silver coins. According to historians, from the 13th to 16th century, the Hundi system4 — an informal, unconditional financial contract or bill or exchange — flourished4. The British introduced modern banking systems and formalized credit instruments such as checks, bills of exchange, and promissory notes, enabling more efficient and secure transactions in trade.
Payments have been simplified and digitized to a great extent — think credit and debit cards, netbanking, wallets, instant money transfer enabled by the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). Today, international customers can purchase Indian products and pay online in their local currency, while Indian exporters receive the payment in INR in their bank accounts. With the government introducing the ICEGATE portal, many payment reconciliation documents can be filed electronically, enabling paperless transactions.
Technology-aided evolution of logistics
Since the Harappan times, modes of transportation have evolved from animals to carts to boats moving along designated land and water routes. The invention of plank-built watercraft was a landmark development. Goods used to take weeks, sometimes months, to traverse from the origin location to the destination through these modes.
Movement of goods has been sped up drastically with the introduction of railways, containerization, evolution of shipping practices, and automated systems with barcodes and scanners to track shipments. Amazon Global Selling offers same-day or two-day delivery enabled by programs like Amazon FBA (warehousing at the destination) and SEND (managed logistics), while cutting costs.

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Published on July 5th, 2023.

1 Chapter 22 Shipping, Statistical Year Book India 2018. Government of India.
2 What is the Silk Route? UNESCO
3 This chart shows the growth of India’s economy. World Economic Forum.
4 Museum, Hundies. Reserve Bank of India
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*Map not to scale. The map has been used for design and representational purpose only, it does not depict the geographical boundaries of the country. These do not conform to the external boundaries of India recognized by the Survey of India.