India’s Oil Demand: On the Verge of ‘Take-Off’?
Over the last decade, non-OECD oil demand growth, and by extension global oil demand growth, was driven mainly by China, which accounted for half to two-thirds of this growth. However, since the Chinese government embarked on a deliberate policy of rebalancing, the country’s annual demand growth has slowed to under 0.3 mb/d, compared to an average demand growth of over 0.5 mb/d in the 10 years prior to 2013. In this new era of slower Chinese growth, a new contender has emerged: India, which in 2015 was the main driver of non-OECD oil demand growth. In this paper we argue that in addition to the boost from low oil prices, structural and policy-driven changes are underway which could result in India’s oil demand ‘taking off’ in a similar way to China’s during the late 1990s, when Chinese oil demand was at levels roughly equivalent to current Indian oil demand. These changes include: a rise in per capita oil consumption (reflected in rising motorization of the Indian economy), a massive programme of road construction (amounting to 30 km per day), and a push towards increasing the share of manufacturing in GDP by 2022 (which could increase oil consumption by at least a third based on a conservative linear estimate). This paper also examines the implications of a take-off in domestic demand for India’s recently acquired status as a net petroleum product exporter.