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A US lobby group which represents firms including Amazon.com and Walmart has urged India not to tighten foreign investment rules for e-commerce companies again, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
India is considering revising the rules after traders in the country accused Amazon’s Indian division and Walmart’s Flipkart of creating complex structures to bypass investment regulations, Reuters reported this month.
The US companies deny any wrongdoing.
India only allows foreign e-commerce players to operate as a marketplace to connect buyers and sellers but local traders say the US giants promote select sellers and offer deep discounts, which hurts business for smaller local retailers.
In 2018, India changed its foreign direct investment (FDI) rules to deter foreign firms offering products from sellers in which they have an equity stake.
The government is now considering tightening those rules again to include sellers in which a foreign e-commerce firm holds an indirect stake through its parent, Reuters reported.
Such a change could hurt Amazon as it holds indirect stakes in two of its biggest online sellers in India, Cloudtail and Appario.
Citing the Reuters story in a Jan. 28 letter, the US-India Business Council (USIBC), part of the US Chamber of Commerce, urged the Indian government not to make any more material restrictive changes to e-commerce investment rules.
“Any further changes in FDI rules would limit e-commerce firms from leveraging their scale,” USIBC said in the letter seen by Reuters.
USIBC also asked India’s Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) to engage in substantive consultation with companies on e-commerce regulation.
USIBC and DPIIT did not respond to a request for comment.
After the Reuters story was published last week, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which represents millions of brick-and-mortar retailers, said it has received assurances from India’s commerce minister that policy changes were in the offing.
On Saturday, CAIT in a statement said the USIBC letter was an “uncalled for intervention” which runs against the interest of 85 million traders. “Such a hue and cry is not understandable,” CAIT said, adding that it had also written a letter in protest to the USIBC President.
The government is also considering prohibiting online sales by a seller who, for example, purchases goods from an e-commerce entity’s wholesale unit, or any of its group firms, and then sells them on the entity’s websites, Reuters has reported.
The 2018 rule changes soured relations between India and the United States, as Washington said the policy changes favoured local e-commerce retailers over US companies.
Industry sources told Reuters on Friday that the prospects of such frequent policy changes in India have alarmed Amazon, which has committed $6.5 billion in investments in India, and Walmart, which invested $16 billion in Flipkart in 2018.
The USIBC letter said “investments require reasonable policy predictability and fair treatment”.
“USIBC is concerned that material changes to the FDI policy creates uncertainty and impacts investor confidence, as well as business continuity of existing investments,” it said.
Amazon declined to comment on the USIBC letter. Walmart and Flipkart did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon’s bid: Amazon.com Inc’s bid to stall Future Group’s $3.4 billion retail assets sale is similar to Alexander the Great’s “ruthless ambition to scorch the earth”, the Indian group’s CEO Kishore Biyani said in an internal staff memo seen by Reuters.
Amazon, locked in protracted legal disputes with Future, alleges the Indian firm violated contracts by agreeing to sell its retail assets to Reliance Industries last year. Future denies wrongdoing.
The two sides this week traded barbs in a New Delhi court, the latest legal case where Amazon is seeking to block the sale. India’s second-largest retailer says the deal is critical for the survival of its 1,700 stores and thousands of employees.
Dubbing it a corporate battle “for supremacy over Indian customers”, Biyani’s staff e-mail late on Friday said Amazon was “playing the dog in the manger”.
Taking a further dig at Amazon, he said the “vexatious litigation and harassment makes one wonder about the similarity in ruthless ambition to scorch the earth akin to the Greek Alexander - after all, they are inspired to name their product as Alexa”.
“History tells us that Alexander conquered large parts of the world but failed in India.”
India will require e-commerce firms to treat sellers equally on their platforms and ensure transparency, according to a draft policy seen by Reuters on Saturday that follows criticism against business practices of big online companies.
A New Delhi court this week dealt a blow to the US firm by revoking a previous court decision that effectively blocked the deal, and Amazon has filed an appeal against it in the Supreme Court in the capital city, the three sources said.
An Indian court on Monday overturned an order that had stalled Future Group’s $3.4 billion deal to sell its retail assets, two sources said, in a setback for Future’s partner Amazon.com Inc, which has challenged the sale.
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