That is a fundamental question; but the answer may vary. And that is the problem. If there can be no unique answer to such a fundamental question, that can have serious consequences on the policy front. But that cannot be helped.
Indian Iron Ore Exports
Because the answer to that question will be determined by the temporal trade offs that a nation chooses to make. Any nation is endowed with a finite quantum of mineral resources like iron ore. These resources have to be utilised for the welfare of the people that constitute that nation. The nation has to choose therefore how much of those resources it wishes to utilise for the welfare of its present constituents and how much it wishes to leave behind for the welfare of its future constituents; more that it utilises in the present, less it can leave behind for the future.
One alternative, and probably the most comfortable alternative, is to utilise the resources to the full capacity – that is, to maximise the current welfare subject to technological and financial constraints. Such an alternative would make export of iron ore desirable; the proceeds of the exports could be utilised for the welfare of the current generation. Perhaps there has never been a more favourable time than last few years and perhaps there never will be than the next few years, for export of iron ore. With China ready to buy whatever iron ore that the world produces, perhaps there could never be a better time.
Production of Iron Ore in India
But should that tempt us to make hay while the sun shines ? Fifty years earlier, that could be an acceptable choice. Fifty years earlier, survival was our primary objective; and it would have been foolish to think of tomorrows when our todays were uncertain. But we are no longer in that situation. Today, we are well secured; it is our tomorrows that need to be secured. That is exactly what China is doing.
It is simply buying tomorrows, paying for them by its abundant todays. Should we sell our tomorrows to it ?