NEW DELHI: Exports declined for the 12th month in November, indicating that tepid global demand continues to be a drag on India’s economic recovery. A sharper fall in imports, however, helped keep the country’s trade deficit in check.

Exports fell more than 24 per cent to $20 billion in November, compared with $26.4 billion a year earlier, according to data released by the commerce ministry on Tuesday.

Imports declined over 30 per cent to $29.7 billion from $42.7 billion a year ago, led by low crude oil prices and subdued imports of gold, coal and fertilisers. This helped shrank the trade deficit to $9.7 billion from $16.2 billion.

The drop in November exports was the steepest in the past couple of years, said SC Ralhan, president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations. At the current trend, India is expected to end the year with exports of between $260 billion and $270 billion, he said.

Aditi Nayar, senior economist at ratings firm ICRA, did not share the alarm.

“The shift in the festive calendar and the lower number of working days in November 2015 appear to have distorted the merchandise export shipment figures for that month, contributing to the widespread contraction across product categories,” Nayar said.

The standalone merchandise export data for November should be viewed with caucaution but not alarm, she added. Sluggish global demand, an overvalued rupee, declining imports from China and devaluation of the Chinese currency have deterred India’s exports from growing, despite the commerce department expanding export incentive schemes for various products and markets.

Merchandise exports in the first eight months of the fiscal year stood at $174.3 billion, compared with $213.7 billion in the corresponding period last year, a decline of 18.5 per cent. In 2014-15, India’s exports totalled $310.5 billion. Performance has imported in just seven of 30 product groups in November, compared with nine in October.

Non-oil imports fell 24.7 per cent to $23.3 billion, while oil imports dropped nearly 45 per cent to $6.4 billion. Nayar said the underlying weakness in non-oil exports, which have contracted 10 per cent in the April-November 2015, remains a cause for concern.

Gold imports in November fell 36.5 per cent to $3.53 billion. Import of coal, coke and briquettes shrank over 50 per centt to $876.65 million.

“The situation on the external front has worsened rather than improving, raising a serious question about the sheer survival of the export sector with a large number of jobs at stake,” said TS Bhasin, chairman of the Engineering Export Promotion Council. He asked the government to take some last-ditch measures to stop fiscal 2015-16 from becoming the worst for exports in the last decade.

On the export front, there was a sharp decline in the shipments of petroleum products (53.9 per cent), engineering goods (28.6 per cent), rice (37.1 per cent), iron ore (14 per cent) and gems and jewellery (21.5 per cent).