FDI in Indian economy

Internationalising the rupee without the ‘coin tossing’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Currency swap agreements, Rupee Internationalization and its direct and indirect impact on economy

Mains level: Rupee Internationalization, its significance of Indian economy, challenges and learnings from China and reforms

Central Idea

  • The recent announcement by the Indian government regarding a long-term road map for the internationalization of the rupee holds immense potential for the country’s economic growth. This move aims to revive the rupee’s historical prominence as a widely accepted currency in the Gulf region and strengthen its position in the global foreign exchange market.

*Relevance of the topic*

The Indian government has been consistently focused on promoting the internationalization of the rupee.

India has been exploring the use of the rupee for bilateral trade settlements with its trading partners, for instance amidst Russian oil ban, India explored Rupee-Rubel settlement for oil imports.

China, Russia and a few other countries have become more vocal in questioning the US dollar-dominated global currency system

Historical Context

  • Indian Rupee as Legal Tender in the Gulf Region: In the 1950s, the Indian rupee held the status of legal tender in several Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. It was widely used for various transactions, and these Gulf monarchies purchased rupees using the pound sterling.
  • Introduction of the Gulf Rupee: To tackle challenges related to gold smuggling, the Reserve Bank of India (Amendment) Act was enacted in 1959. This legislation led to the creation of the Gulf Rupee, which was intended for circulation only in the West Asian region. The central bank issued notes specific to the Gulf region, and individuals holding Indian currency were given a six-week window to exchange their rupees for the new Gulf rupee.
  • Devaluation of Indian Rupee and Transition to Local Currencies: In 1966, India devalued its currency, which eventually had repercussions on the acceptance of the Gulf rupee. The devaluation eroded confidence in the stability of the Indian rupee, prompting some West Asian countries to replace the Gulf rupee with their own sovereign currencies. The introduction of sovereign currencies in the region was driven by both economic factors and concerns about the Indian rupee’s stability.
  • Impact of Demonetisation: In 2016, the Indian government implemented a demonetisation exercise, which involved invalidating high-value currency notes, including the ₹1,000 and ₹500 denominations. This move aimed to curb black money, corruption, and counterfeit currency. However, it also had an impact on the confidence in the Indian rupee, both domestically and among neighboring countries such as Bhutan and Nepal.
  • Withdrawal of ₹2,000 Note: In recent times, the decision to withdraw the ₹2,000 note from circulation has further affected confidence in the rupee. This move has led to concerns and uncertainties among the public and businesses, particularly regarding the stability and continuity of currency denominations.

What does it mean by Internationalizing the Indian Rupee?

  • Internationalizing the Indian Rupee refers to the process of increasing the acceptance, use, and recognition of the Indian rupee as a global currency. It involves making the rupee more widely used and traded in international markets, increasing its convertibility, and promoting its adoption for cross-border transactions, trade settlements, and investment activities

Advantages of internationalization of the rupee

  • Enhanced Trade and Investment: Internationalization of the rupee can facilitate smoother trade transactions between India and other countries. This can lead to increased bilateral trade, attract foreign investment, and boost economic growth.
  • Reduced Exchange Rate Risks: Internationalisation reduces exchange rate risks associated with fluctuations in major global currencies. When the rupee becomes more widely accepted and used in international transactions, it reduces the vulnerability of the Indian economy to external currency volatility.
  • Lower Transaction Costs: Greater international acceptance of the rupee can reduce transaction costs for businesses and individuals engaged in cross-border trade and remittances.
  • Strengthening Financial Markets: A more internationalized rupee would lead to the development of deeper and more liquid rupee-denominated financial markets. This includes rupee bond markets and derivatives markets. It helps diversify funding sources and provide greater stability and opportunities for investors and businesses.
  • Reserve Currency Status: The internationalisation of the rupee can potentially lead to its recognition as a reserve currency. Reserve currency status enhances a country’s monetary and financial influence globally and promotes stability in international financial systems.
  • Boosting India’s Global Standing: Internationalisation of the rupee signals the country’s economic strength, reforms, and openness to international trade and investment. It can improve India’s reputation as an attractive investment destination and strengthen its role in regional and global economic decision-making forums.

The Challenge of International Demand for the rupee

  • Low Daily Average Share: The daily average share of the rupee in the global foreign exchange market is approximately 1.6%. This indicates that the rupee is not extensively traded or widely used for international transactions compared to currencies like the US dollar or the euro.
  • Limited International Transactions: Although India has taken steps to promote the internationalisation of the rupee, such as enabling external commercial borrowings in rupees and encouraging trade in rupees with select countries, the volume of such transactions is still limited. For instance, India continues to purchase oil from Russia in dollars, and efforts to settle trade in rupees with Russia have faced challenges.
  • Capital Account Convertibility Constraints: India imposes significant constraints on capital account convertibility, which refers to the movement of local financial investments into foreign assets and vice versa. These restrictions are in place to mitigate risks of capital flight and exchange rate volatility, given India’s current and capital account deficits. However, they limit the ease of converting rupees into other currencies, reducing international demand.
  • Lack of Reserve Currency Status: For a currency to be considered a reserve currency, it needs to be fully convertible, readily usable, and available in sufficient quantities. The rupee does not currently enjoy reserve currency status, and its limited convertibility and usage hinder its attractiveness for central banks and international institutions to hold significant amounts of rupees as part of their foreign exchange reserves.

Learning from China’s Experience

  • Phased Approach: China adopted a phased approach to internationalise the Renminbi (RMB). It initially allowed the use of RMB outside China for current account transactions, such as commercial trade and interest payments, and gradually expanded it to select investment transactions. This gradual approach helped in managing risks and ensuring a smooth transition.
  • Offshore Markets and Clearing Banks: China established offshore markets, such as the “Dim Sum” bond and offshore RMB bond market, which allowed financial institutions in Hong Kong to issue RMB-denominated bonds. Additionally, China permitted central banks, offshore clearing banks, and offshore participating banks to invest excess RMB in debt securities. These measures enhanced the RMB’s liquidity and facilitated its usage in international transactions.
  • Currency Swap Agreements: China entered into currency swap agreements with several countries, including Brazil, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. These agreements enabled the exchange of equivalent amounts of money in different currencies, facilitating trade and investment transactions in RMB and reducing reliance on other currencies.
  • Free Trade Zones: China launched the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, which facilitated free trading between non-resident onshore and offshore accounts. This zone provided a platform for international businesses to transact in RMB and boosted the currency’s international usage.
  • Reserve Currency Status: China’s efforts towards internationalisation of the RMB led to its recognition as a reserve currency. By the second quarter of 2022, the RMB’s share of international reserves reached approximately 2.88%. This status further solidified the RMB’s acceptance and usage in global financial markets.

Way forward: Reforms for Rupee Internationalisation

  • Full Convertibility: The rupee should be made more freely convertible, with a goal of achieving full convertibility by 2060. This would involve allowing financial investments to move freely between India and abroad, removing significant restrictions on currency exchange and capital flows.
  • Deeper and More Liquid Rupee Bond Market: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should focus on developing a deeper and more liquid rupee bond market. This would enable foreign investors and Indian trade partners to have more investment options in rupees, enhancing the attractiveness and usage of the currency.
  • Trade Settlement in Rupees: Indian exporters and importers should be encouraged to invoice their transactions in rupees. Optimising the trade settlement formalities for rupee import/export transactions would facilitate greater usage of the rupee in international trade, reducing reliance on foreign currencies.
  • Currency Swap Agreements: India can establish additional currency swap agreements with trading partners. These agreements would allow India to settle trade and investment transactions in rupees, eliminating the need for reliance on reserve currencies like the US dollar.
  • Tax Incentives for Foreign Businesses: The government can provide tax incentives to foreign businesses operating in India, encouraging them to utilize the rupee in their operations. This would boost the demand for the rupee and promote its usage in international transactions.
  • Currency Management Stability: The RBI and the Ministry of Finance should ensure consistent and predictable issuance and retrieval of notes and coins, promoting currency management stability. This stability is crucial for building confidence in the rupee’s value and maintaining trust among market participants.
  • Exchange Rate Regime Improvement: Improving the exchange rate regime by adopting transparent and market-based mechanisms can enhance the stability and credibility of the rupee’s exchange rate. This would instill confidence among investors and businesses dealing in rupee-denominated transactions.
  • Higher Profile in International Organizations: Efforts should be made to push for making the rupee an official currency in international organizations. This would raise the profile and acceptability of the rupee globally, contributing to its internationalisation.
  • Pursuing Expert Committee Recommendations: Recommendations from expert committees, such as the Tarapore Committees, should be pursued. These recommendations include reducing fiscal deficits, lowering gross inflation rates, and addressing banking non-performing assets. Implementing these measures would enhance macroeconomic stability and strengthen the rupee’s attractiveness.


  • The government’s road map for the internationalisation of the rupee holds immense potential for Indian businesses, financial stability, and the government’s ability to finance deficits. With predictable currency management policies and a phased approach, the rupee’s journey towards internationalisation can contribute to India’s economic growth and strengthen its position in the global economy.

Also read:

Using a rupee route to get around a dominating dollar

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