Update: Bloomberg today reports that both Apple and Samsung have responded to the sudden announcement by halting laptop imports into India. This is likely to be a temporary pause until a license is issued, but there’s no way to know how long this may take.
The move appears to be part of the country’s Made in India strategy, which uses a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage brands to set up local manufacturing plants for their products …
Background: How India solicited iPhone assembly
The government’s Made in India initiative is a long-running program intended to encourage global brands to manufacture products within the country, both for local sale and for export.
For example, India has imposed import tariffs on consumer electronics products, but allowed components to be imported without customs payments.
One of the key bargaining chips used with Apple was refusing the Cupertino company permission to open retail stores in the country until it started manufacturing a certain proportion of iPhones there. This is reason that the first Indian Apple Stores opened only this year.
Apple initially limited Indian iPhone assembly to the iPhone SE back in 2017, but subsequently ramped up production to the full range – including the iPhone 14 last year. This year, iPhone 15 assembly is expected to begin simultaneously in both China and India.
A report last year suggested that a quarter of all iPhones could be made in India by 2025, and another this year went even further, indicating that India could account for 50% of global iPhone production by 2027.
iPad and Mac assembly next on India’s agenda
The Indian government first announced tax incentives for local assembly of tablets and computers back in 2021. Apple successfully negotiated a more generous deal in return for setting up iPad production lines in the country.
Having put in place the “carrot” in the form of tax cuts, the government now appears to be working on the “stick”: controls that would allow it to limit imports of foreign-manufactured iPads and Macs. A license is now required to import five categories of computing products, which would include the iPad, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac mini, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro.
TechCrunch reports that the announcement was made by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
India restricted import of laptops, tablets, other personal computers and servers with immediate effect on Thursday […]
“Import of laptops, tablets, all-in-one personal computers, and ultra small form factor computers and servers falling under HSN 8741 shall be ‘restricted,’” a government notification said, adding that the import will be allowed against a valid licence for restricted imports. The restriction will also not apply to passengers carrying the mentioned devices in their baggage.
Right now, this appears to be merely a formality, and it’s certain that Apple will be among the brands granted a license.
However, the message being sent by the Indian government is perfectly clear: We can restrict the permitted number of imports anytime we please, so better start setting up local manufacturing. The five categories are almost tailor-made to match Apple’s Mac lineup.
While there is more than a whiff of blackmail about this latest move, Apple is unlikely to be too upset. The company already planned to make iPads in India, and gradually shifting some Mac production there too will help in Apple’s efforts to reduce its reliance on China as a manufacturing hub.
There’s also an upward spiral here: The more Apple products assembled in India, the more incentives for establishing a local supply chain for components, and the easier it becomes to boost production volumes. In the long-term, India becoming another China is in the joint interests of both Apple and the Indian economy.
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