Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal not only ticked off Amazon and its boss Jeff Bezos saying that they are not doing India a favour by investing a billion dollars, but also raised concerns if its losses were a result of predatory pricing and if Amazon and Flipkart were gaining entry into multi-brand retail by using loopholes.
Goyal, while speaking at the Raisina Dialogues, tore into the MNC e-commerce players like Amazon and Flipkart, signalling a very strong government and policy intent to scrutinize their practices which traders and others have been protesting against.
Answering a question if there is a strong domestic pushback for Amazon and whether that makes investing tough, he said that very recently he read that the Competition Commission of India, based on its preliminary findings, has already initiated an enquiry into the practices of Amazon and Flipkart.
"And that is certainly an area of concern for every Indian", he said.
Goyal said that any players trying to circumvent rules for FDI in multi-brand retail will have to be questioned. "We have very strict rules about FDI in multi-brand retail where only 49 per cent is allowed and anybody who tries to use the e-commerce market place model to get into multi-brand retail space surreptituously will have to be questioned, will have to be investigated. I don't know if it is only Amazon or both Amazon and Flipkart and that is certainly an area of concern to every Indian," he added, indicating that these players are also facing fire for this reason.
"Whether they are doing that or not is for the investigators to decide. It is not my call. I think we will leave that job to the persons expected to investigate the business practices of different companies and whatever be their findings will be respected by everybody," he said.
More importantly, alluding to the $1 billion investment announced by Bezos in India, Goyal had a different take.
"Secondly, (if) they have made a loss of a billion dollars then they jolly well have to finance the billion dollars. So it is not as if they are doing a great favour to India when they invest a billion dollars," he said.
"(If) they've been investing in activities also in warehousing which is welcome, it is good; but if they are investing money largely to finance losses in an e-marketplace model, in a fair market place model in a turnover of $10 billion, if you have a loss of $1-1.5 billion, (it) certainly raises questions where the losses came from. How can a market place make such a big loss unless they are indulging in predatory pricing or some unfair trade practice? These are questions which will need answers and I am sure the authorities will seek those answers and I am sure the e-commerce companies will have their say on that," Goyal said indicating that the huge losses may be the result of predatory pricing.
He also asked the players to follow the law. "But I have, on more than one occasion, including in this very room... maybe 6-7 times said this to the people of India and to all investors - please follow the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Don't try to find loopholes within the defined letter of the law alone when we have very clearly articulated what the ecommerce market place is."
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