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(Article) CSM - October 2012: FDI in Retail: A Necessary Evil

FDI in Retail: A Necessary Evil

The Union cabinet on 24 November 2011 approved 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. The Cabinet also decided to raise the cap on foreign investment in single-brand retailing to 100 per cent from 51 per cent. An estimated Rs 30-lakh-crore retail sector was thus opened to foreign investors by clearing a bill that allows 51 per cent investment in multi-brand retail. The decision being perceived as game-changer for the estimated USD 590 billion (Rs 29.50 lakh crore) retail market was taken at the meeting of the Cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India currently allows 51  percent foreign investment in single brand retailers and 100 percent for wholesale operations but no FDI in multi-brand retail.

The major provisions for FDI investment include that the minimum investment will have to be $100 million. Retail stores will only be allowed in cities with more than one million people. Also it will be mandatory for retailers to source a minimum 30 per cent of the value of manufactured goods, barring food products, from small and medium enterprises. Investment up to 50 per cent will have to be in storage and back-end infrastructure. India being a signatory to World Trade Organisation’s 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. FDI in cash and carry or wholesale trade, was allowed way back in 1997 during the United Front Government. Foreign investment of up to 51 per cent in single brand retailing came to India in January 2006.

The Union government further asserted that 30 per cent sourcing under FDI in multi-brand retail has been made mandatory from Indian MSEs only. The government highlighted that the 30 per cent obligation before the global players is limited to India. The government's explanation came amidst protests from the opposition and the micro and small enterprises (MSEs).According to government's previous stand, the overseas players have to do 30 per cent of their sourcing from MSEs which, however, can be done from anywhere in the world and is not India-specific. The only condition placed was that these MSEs must not have more than $1 million [Rs.5 crore] investment in plant and machinery.

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.

The retail industry is mainly divided into:- 1) Organised and 2) Unorganised Retailing Organised 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 hypermarkets and retail chains, and also the privately owned large retail businesses. Unorganised 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.

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 right 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.

Positive aspects

FDI can be a powerful catalyst to spur competition in the retail industry, due to the current scenario of low competition and poor productivity. The policy of singlebrand retail was adopted to allow Indian consumers access to foreign brands. Since Indians spend a lot of money shopping abroad, this policy enables them to spend the same money on the same goods in India. FDI in single-brand retailing was permitted in 2006, up to 51 per cent of ownership. Between then and May 2010, a total of 94 proposals have been received. Of these, 57 proposals have been approved. An FDI inflow of US$196.46 million under the category of single brand retailing was received between April 2006 and September 2010, comprising 0.16 per cent of the total FDI inflows during the period. Retail stocks rose by as much as 5%. Shares of Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd ended 4.84% up at Rs 441 on the Bombay Stock Exchange. Shares of Shopper's Stop Ltd rose 2.02% and Trent Ltd, 3.19%. The exchange's key index rose 173.04 points, or 0.99%, to 17,614.48. But this is very less as compared to what it would have been had FDI up to 100% been allowed in India for single brand. The policy of allowing 100% FDI in single brand retail can benefit both the foreign retailer and the Indian partner – foreign players get local market knowledge, while Indian companies can access global best management practices, designs and technological knowhow. By partially opening this sector, the government was able to reduce the pressure from its trading partners in bilateral/ multilateral negotiations and could demonstrate India's intentions in liberalising this sector in a phased manner.

Permitting foreign investment in food-based retailing is likely to ensure adequate flow of capital into the country & its productive use, in a manner likely to promote the welfare of all sections of society, particularly farmers and consumers. It would also help bring about improvements in farmer income & agricultural growth and assist in lowering consumer prices inflation. Apart from this, by allowing FDI in retail trade, India will significantly flourish in terms of quality standards and consumer expectations, since the inflow of FDI in retail sector is bound to pull up the quality standards and costcompetitiveness of Indian producers in all the segments. It is therefore obvious that we should not only permit but encourage FDI in retail trade. Lastly, it is to be noted that the Indian Council of Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER), a premier economic think tank of the country, which was appointed to look into the impact of BIG capital in the retail sector, has projected the worth of Indian retail sector to reach $496 billion by 2011-12 and ICRIER has also come to conclusion that investment of  'big' money (large corporates and FDI) in the retail sector would in the long run not harm interests of small, traditional, retailers. In light of the  above, it can be safely concluded that allowing healthy FDI in the retail sector would not only lead to a substantial surge in the country's GDP and overall economic development, but would inter alia also help in integrating the Indian retail market with that of the global retail market in addition to providing not just employment but a better paying employment, which the unorganized sector (kirana and other small time retailing shops) have undoubtedly failed to provide to the masses employed in them.

Concerns

It is feared that, it would lead to unfair competition and ultimately result in large-scale exit of domestic retailers, especially the small family managed outlets, leading to large scale displacement of persons employed in the retail sector. Further, as the manufacturing sector has not been growing fast enough, the persons displaced from the retail sector would not be absorbed there. Another concern is that the Indian retail sector, particularly organized retail, is still under-developed and in a nascent stage and that, therefore, it is important that the domestic retail sector is allowed to grow and consolidate first, before opening this sector to foreign investors. Antagonists of FDI in retail sector oppose the same on various grounds, like, that the entry of large global retailers such as Wal-Mart would kill local shops and millions of jobs, since the unorganized retail sector employs an enormous percentage of Indian population after the agriculture sector; secondly that the global retailers would conspire and exercise monopolistic power to raise prices and monopolistic (big buying) power to reduce the prices received by the suppliers; thirdly, it would lead to asymmetrical growth in cities, causing discontent and social tension elsewhere. Hence, both the consumers and the suppliers would lose, while the profit margins of such retail chains would go up.

Argument that only foreign players can create the supply chain for farm produce is bogus. International retail players have no role in building roads or generating power. They are only required to create storage facilities and cold chains. This could be done by governments in India. Move will lead to large-scale job losses. International experience shows supermarkets invariably displace small retailers. Small retail has virtually been wiped out in developed countries like the US and in Europe. South East Asian countries had to impose stringent zoning and licensing regulations to restrict growth of supermarkets after small retailers were getting displaced. Fragmented markets give larger options to consumers. Consolidated markets make the consumer captive. Allowing foreign players with deep pockets leads to consolidation. International retail does not create additional markets, it merely displaces existing markets. India has the highest shopping density in the world with 11 shops per 1,000 people. It has 1.2 crore shops employing over 4 crore people; 95% of these are small shops run by selfemployed people. Global retail giants will resort to predatory pricing to create monopoly/oligopoly. This can result in essentials, including food supplies, being controlled by foreign organizations. Jobs in the manufacturing sector will be lost because structured international retail makes purchases internationally and not from domestic sources. This has been the experience of most countries which have allowed FDI in retail. Comparison between India and China is misplaced. China is predominantly a manufacturing economy. It’s the largest supplier to Wal-Mart and other international majors. It obviously cannot say no to these chains opening stores in China when it is a global supplier to them. India in contrast will lose both manufacturing and services jobs.

Conclusion

Conclusively we can say that FDI in retail has the both positive as well as negative aspects of it, but what we should consider before jumping on any conclusion that fears of small shopkeepers getting displaced are vastly exaggerated. When domestic majors were allowed to invest in retail, both supermarket chains and neighbourhood pop-and-mom stores coexisted. If anything, the entry of retail big boys is likely to hot up competition, giving consumers a better deal, both in prices and choices. Mega retail chains need to keep price points low and attractive - that’s the USP of their business. This is done by smart procurement and inventory management: Good practices from which Indian retail can also learn. The argument that farmers will suffer once global retail has developed a virtual monopoly is also weak. To begin with, it's very unlikely that global retail will ever become monopolies. Stores like Wal-Mart or Tesco are by definition few, on the outskirts of cities (to keep real estate costs low), and can't intrude into the territory of local kiranas. So, they can not eat up their share of pie. Secondly, it can't be anyone's case that farmers are getting a good deal right now. The fact is that farmers barely subsist while middlemen take the cream. Let's not get dreamy about this unequal relationship.

Pankaj Kumar

 

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