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India being a signatory to World Trade Organizations General Agreement on Trade in Services, which include wholesale and retailing services, had to open up the retail trade sector to foreign investment. There were initial reservations towards opening up of retail sector arising from fear of job losses, procurement from international market, competition and loss of entrepreneurial opportunities. However, the government in a series of moves has opened up the retail sector slowly to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In 1997, FDI in cash and carry (wholesale) with 100 percent ownership was allowed under the Government approval route. It was brought under the automatic route in 2006. 51 percent investment in a single brand retail outlet was also permitted in 2006. FDI in Multi-Brand retailing is prohibited in India.
Definition of Retail: In 2004, The High Court of Delhi defined the term 'retail' as a sale for final consumption in contrast to a sale for further sale or processing (i.e. wholesale). A sale to the ultimate consumer.
Thus, retailing can be said to be the interface between the producer and the individual consumer buying for personal consumption. This excludes direct interface between the manufacturer and institutional buyers such as the government and other bulk customers retailing is the last link that connects the individual consumer with the manufacturing and distribution chain. A retailer is involved in the act of selling goods to the individual consumer at a margin of profit.
Division of Retail Industry: The retail industry is mainly divided into:-
1) Organized and
2) Unorganized Retailing.
Organized retailing refers to trading activities undertaken by licensed retailers, that is, those who are registered for sales tax, income tax, etc. These include the corporate-backed hyper markets and retail chains, and also the privately owned large retail businesses.
Unorganized retailing, on the other hand, refers to the traditional formats of low-cost retailing, for example, the local kirana shops, owner manned general stores, paan/beedi shops, convenience stores, hand cart and pavement vendors, etc.
The Indian retail sector is highly fragmented with 97 per cent of its business being run by the unorganized retailers. The organized retail however is at a very nascent stage. The sector is the largest source of employment after agriculture, and has deep penetration into rural India generating more than 10 per cent of India's GDP.
FDI Policy in India: FDI as defined in Dictionary of Economics (Graham Bannock et.al) is investment in a foreign country through the acquisition of a local company or the establishment there of an operation on a new (Greenfield) site. To put in simple words, FDI refers to capital inflows from abroad that is invested in or to enhance the production capacity of the economy.
Foreign Investment in India is governed by the FDI policy announced by the Government of India and the provision of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) 1999. The Reserve Bank of India ('RBI') in this regard had issued a notification, which contains the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or issue of security by a person resident outside India) Regulations, 2000. This notification has been amended from time to time.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India is the nodal agency for motoring and reviewing the FDI policy on continued basis and changes in sectoral policy/ sectoral equity cap. The FDI policy is notified through Press Notes by the Secretariat for Industrial Assistance (SIA), Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).
The foreign investors are free to invest in India, except few sectors/activities, where prior approval from the RBI or Foreign Investment Promotion Board ('FIPB') would be required.
FDI Policy with Regard to Retailing in India: It will be prudent to look into Press Note 4 of 2006 issued by DIPP and consolidated FDI Policy issued in October 2010 which provide the sector specific guidelines for FDI with regard to the conduct of trading activities.
a) FDI up to 100% for cash and carry wholesale trading and export trading allowed under the automatic route.
b) FDI up to 51 % with prior Government approval (i.e. FIPB) for retail trade of 'Single Brand' products, subject to Press Note 3 (2006 Series)
c) FDI is not permitted in Multi Brand Retailing in India.
Foreign Investor's Concern Regarding FDI Policy in India: For those brands which adopt the franchising route as a matter of policy, the current FDI Policy will not make any difference. They would have preferred that the Government liberalize rules for maximizing their royalty and franchise fees. They must still rely on innovative structuring of franchise arrangements to maximize their returns. Consumer durable majors such as LG and Samsung, which have exclusive franchisee owned stores, are unlikely to shift from the preferred route righ away.
For those companies which choose to adopt the route of 51% partnership, they must tie up with a local partner. The key is finding a partner which is reliable and who can also teach a trick or two about the domestic market and the Indian consumer. Currently, the organized retail sector is dominated by the likes of large business groups which decided to diversify into retail to cash in on the boom in the sector - corporate such as Tata through its brand Westside, RPG Group through Food world, Pantaloon of the Raheja Group and Shopper's Stop. Do foreign investors look to tie up with an existing retailer or look to others not necessarily in the business but looking to diversify, as many business groups are doing?
An arrangement in the short to medium term may work wonders but what happens if the Government decides to further liberalize the regulations as it is currently contemplating? Will the foreign investor terminate the agreement with Indian partner and trade in market without him? Either way, the foreign investor must negotiate its joint venture agreements carefully, with an option for a buy-out of the Indian partner's share if and when regulations so permit. They must also be aware of the regulation which states that once a foreign company enters into a technical or financial collaboration with an Indian partner, it cannot enter into another joint venture with another Indian company or set up its own subsidiary in the 'same' field' without the first partner's consent if the joint venture agreement does not provide for a 'conflict of interest' clause. In effect, it means that foreign brand owners must be extremely careful whom they choose as partners and the brand they introduce in India. The first brand could also be their last if they do not negotiate the strategic arrangement diligently.
FDI in Single Brand Retail: The Government has not categorically defined the meaning of "Single Brand" anywhere neither in any of its circulars or nor any notifications.
In single-brand retail, FDI up to 51 per cent is allowed, subject to Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval and subject to the conditions mentioned in following
(a) Only single brand products would be sold (i.e., retail of goods of multi-brand even if produced by the same manufacturer would not be allowed)
(b) Products should be sold under the same brand internationally,
(c) single-brand product retail would only cover products which are branded during manufacturing and
(d) Any addition to product categories to be sold under "single-brand" would require fresh approval from the government.
FDI in Multi Brand Retail :The government has also not defined the term Multi Brand. FDI in Multi Brand retail implies that a retail store with a foreign investment can sell multiple brands under one roof.
In July 2010, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Ministry of Commerce circulated a discussion paper on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. The paper doesn't suggest any upper limit on FDI in multi-brand retail. If implemented, it would open the doors for global retail giants to enter and establish their footprints on the retail landscape of India. Opening up FDI in multi-brand retail will mean that global retailers including Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco can open stores offering a range of household items and grocery directly to consumers in the same way as the ubiquitous 'kirana' store.
The government has added an element of social benefit to its latest plan for calibrated opening of the multi-brand retail sector to foreign direct investment (FDI). Only those foreign retailers who first invest in the back-end supply chain and infrastructure would be allowed to set up multi brand retail outlets in the country. The idea is that the firms must have already created jobs for rural India before they venture into multi-brand retailing.
It can be said that the advantages of allowing unrestrained FDI in the retail sector evidently outweigh the disadvantages attached to it and the same can be deduced from the examples of successful experiments in countries like Thailand and China where too the issue of allowing FDI in the retail sector was first met with incessant protests, but later turned out to be one of the most promising political and economical decisions of their governments and led not only to the commendable rise in the level of employment but also led to the enormous development of their country's GDP.
Moreover, in the fierce battle between the advocators and antagonist of unrestrained FDI flows in the Indian retail sector, the interests of the consumers have been blatantly and utterly disregarded. Therefore, one of the arguments which inevitably needs to be considered and addressed while deliberating upon the captioned issue is the interests of consumers at large in relation to the interests of retailers.
It is also pertinent to note here that it can be safely contended that with the possible advent of unrestrained FDI flows in retail market, the interests of the retailers constituting the unorganized retail sector will not be gravely undermined, since nobody can force a consumer to visit a mega shopping complex or a small retailer/sabji mandi. Consumers will shop in accordance with their utmost convenience, where ever they get the lowest price, max variety, and a good consumer experience.
The Industrial policy 1991 had crafted a trajectory of change whereby every sectors of Indian economy at one point of time or the other would be embraced by liberalization, privatization and globalization.FDI in multi-brand retailing and lifting the current cap of 51% on single brand retail is in that sense a steady progression of that trajectory. But the government has by far cushioned the adverse impact of the change that has ensued in the wake of the implementation of Industrial Policy 1991 through safety nets and social safeguards. But the change that the movement of retailing sector into the FDI regime would bring about will require more involved and informed support from the government. One hopes that the government would stand up to its responsibility, because what is at stake is the stability of the vital pillars of the economy- retailing, agriculture, and manufacturing. In short, the socio economic equilibrium of the entire country.
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