Ecommerce can't be back-door entry to multi-brand retail in India: Nirmala Sitharaman

Written by Press Trust of India | London | Updated: Oct 29 2014, 02:48am hrs
Ecommerce in IndiaThere is nothing promised on e-commerce at the moment: Nirmala Sitharaman (Reuters)
India today said that it is conscious about not allowing ecommerce to become an avenue for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the much sought-after multi-brand retail sector.

"There has been a lot of talk on e-commerce. We are conscious that e-commerce should not become a back door entry for multi-brand retail," Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman said here.

She, however, clarified that she is not "pronouncing any policy on e-commerce."

Referring to India's largest e-retailer and its so-called 'Big Billion Day' sale earlier this month which had led to complaints, she said: "Post the Flipkart issue, a lot of inputs have come from concerned citizens, retailers and consumers and these complaints are being looked into."

"That does mean any investigation is going on into any particular e-commerce company," Sitharaman added.

"There is nothing promised on e-commerce at the moment."

The senior BJP leader, who is also the Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs, is here on a two-day visit to hold discussions with investors and members of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on the government's newly-launched 'Make in India' campaign.

In reference to the US Trade Representative's (USTR) controversial decision to initiate a review of India's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime, the minister dismissed it as a "pedagogic exercise."

"I would only look at it as an exercise to understand policies of other countries. India and its courts are conscious of our intellectual property rights and we hold on to defending everything that is due to us and we shall work and engage with the United States to explain our position to them but clearly we stand our ground," she said.

She emphasised the Indian government clearly understands its intellectual property rights.

"The laws that prevail in India are very buoyant, vibrant, up-to-date and robust and that has been established by the various judgements that have come from Indian courts," she said, adding that a more definitive policy framework is being worked on and the government hopes to announce a new IPR policy by early next year.

Sitharaman will hold talks with UK business secretary Vince Cable before heading back to India later today.

She admitted that various sections of the UK industry and government had made references to the retrospective tax issue as well as specifically Vodafone and the recent court judgement.

"Our position has been very clear and we reinforce the view that we will not resort to retrospective taxation. At the same time, this government is working on simplifying the entire taxation framework completely and this will be an important tool with regard to ease of doing business in India."

The amendment made in reference to the issue is already into a lot of litigation, she added.

"Even if we take a call on it from the government, that also will be a retrospective step. So we have very clearly isolated that particular amendment for it to be sorted out by the courts of India."

The minister also clarified that the ball was now in the court of the European Union (EU) on a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, on which it had expressed a lot "enthusiasm and eagerness."

"Since the government took over, we have been reviewing the FTAs and SEZs and our assessment was that the European community was far more focussed on the trans-Atlantic treaty and maybe they were not as keen on a bilateral with India."

"But even during this visit it has been stressed that the UK and EU will look at an FTA with India so it is now for the EU to come back to us and say they would like to proceed on this," she said, adding that all FTAs have been under review to see whether Indian industry, manufacturers and exporters have benefited from them and to ensure they can leverage all agreements to better utilise it.

Sitharaman expressed her confidence in the 'Make In India' campaign and maintaining quality standards without regulation and more through creating greater awareness on quality.

"That would be the best way forward for international competitiveness and the government will do everything it can to facilitate awareness on quality," she said.