Foreign multi-product department stores and supermarkets have lost the opportunity, at least temporarily, to tap into the $450 billion Indian retail market at an ownership level of more than half. Earlier this month, the Indian government withdrew a plan within days of implementation that would allow a foreign direct investment (FDI) of 51 percent or more in cities with populations of at least 1 million.
"The decision to permit 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail trade (such as US-based Walmart and UK-based Tesco) is suspended until a consensus is developed through consultations among various stakeholders," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.
New Delhi was forced into the decision because of strong complaints from both the government’s political opposition and key allied parties, who said they were not consulted.
The plan to broaden foreign participation in India’s retail sector was meant to provide a means of improving the country’s supply chain, widen consumer choices and expand markets for the country’s farmer. Indian manufacturing interests generally supported the effort. Intentions to increase the ownership percentage for single-product retailers, such as Nike, from 51 percent to 100 percent have faced little or no objection and have not been abandoned.
Nandita Dasgupta, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland in the United States, contends that there are enough case studies to show that FDI in the retail sector of India, with proper checks and balances, actually has benefited small retailers and agriculture in the past.
In an article published in the Hindustan Times, he said:
“The policy comes with some riders to protect the interests of neighborhood stores, farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises. If effectively implemented, such FDI has the potential to:
-- Bring in foreign capital, technology and the managerial expertise of big international retailers;
-- Develop an efficient linkage between the back-end supply chain and the front-end via capital investment and technological inputs;
-- Create a proper farm-to-fork infrastructure through direct purchase from farmers and the resultant control of intermediaries;
-- Bring about efficient movement of produce through the reduction of transit costs;
-- Minimize the prevailing wastage of fresh produce through improving and adding upon the existing cold storage facilities, transport infrastructure, warehousing technology and food processing facilities;
-- Help raise farm productivity through the application of contract farming;
-- Increase agricultural production, reduce intermediate costs, render remunerative prices to farmers for their produce and eventually lower final food prices to consumers, thus integrating retailers into the value chain;
-- Create employment in small and medium-size industries and back-end infrastructure.”
Mr. Dasgupta acknowledges that “despite the regulatory provisions to ensure domestic competition and protect the domestic retail industry and farmers, the policy has met with stiff opposition. Concerns include the possibility of monopoly power of foreign entrants over both farmers and consumers, predatory pricing strategies of the entrants, manipulation of prices for the entrants’ own benefit and a fall in income, employment and the eventual destruction of the unorganized indigenous retail sector dominated by small family-run outlets.
“But it is important to remember that other countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore and Thailand have allowed 100 percent FDI in multi-brand retail since the 1990s and many of them have had encouraging experiences. China, for one, permitted FDI in retail as early as 1992. It has since attracted huge investments in the retail sector without affecting either small retailers or domestic retail chains. Since 2004, the number of small outlets rose from 1.9 million to over 2.5 million in China. Employment in the retail and wholesale sectors increased from 28 million to 54 million from 1992 to 2001. In Indonesia, even after 10 years of opening FDI in multi-brand retail, 90% of the business remains with small traders.
“Favorable experiences of other emerging markets suggest that the appropriate implementation of FDI in multi-brand food retailing, with effective checks designed to protect indigenous small and medium-size enterprises, will eventually alleviate the supply-side impediments to agricultural production. It will transform the way perishable agricultural produce is acquired, stored, preserved and marketed — and thus help control India’s persistent food inflation, he said.”
Questions: Has India lost a long-term chance to improve its national supply chain in the retail sector and the economic well-being of a population that represents almost 20 percent of the world total?
If the effort should be relaunched in the future, what basic strategy should be followed? Should it be led by domestic Indian interests, foreign interests, or be a coalition of both?