US tech giants plan to fight India’s data localization plans

An Indian man takes a picture of the Taj Mahal. India wants to compel technology companies to store their data locally, triggering a backlash from some firms. (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 August 2018
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US tech giants plan to fight India’s data localization plans

  • Global efforts to protect data on the rise
  • Technology giants plan lobbying offensive

NEW DELHI: US technology giants plan to intensify lobbying efforts against stringent Indian data localization requirements, which they say will undermine their growth ambitions in India, sources told Reuters.

UStrade groups, representing companies such as Amazon, American Express and Microsoft, have opposed India’s push to store data locally. That push comes amid rising global efforts to protect user data but is one that could hit planned investments by the firms in the Indian market, where the companies currently have limited data storage.
The issue could further undermine already strained economic relations between India and the US.

Technology executives and trade groups have discussed approaching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office to appraise him of their worries. Separately, the industry is considering pitching the issue as a trade concern, including at the India-US talks in September in New Delhi, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Though a final decision hasn’t been made, the deliberations come while the US and India are locked in a dispute over US tariff increases and on the Indian policy of capping prices of medical devices, which hurts American pharmaceutical companies.

“This issue is important enough to be discussed at the India-US trade level,” said Amba Kak, a global public policy adviser at the Internet company Mozilla Corp.
“Data localization is not just a business concern, it potentially makes government surveillance easier, which is a worry.”

Stricter localization norms would help India get easier access to data when conducting investigations, but critics say it could lead to increased government demands for data access.

Technology firms worry the mandate would hurt their planned investments by raising costs related to setting up new local data centers.

Greater use of digital platforms in India for shopping or social networking have made it a lucrative market for technology companies, but a rising number of data breaches have pushed New Delhi to develop strong data protection rules.

Shamika Ravi, a member of Modi’s economic advisory council, said data localization was a global phenomena and India wasn’t an outlier.
“It’s in the long term strategic and economic interest,” said Ravi, who is also a research director at Brookings India.

The main government committee on data privacy last month proposed a draft law, recommending restrictions on data flows and proposing that all “critical personal data” should be processed only within the country. It would be left to the government to define what qualifies as such data.

Global companies are coming together to push back.

In a meeting last week organized by lobby group US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, executives from Facebook, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, PayPal , Amazon, Microsoft and others discussed plans to approach Indian lawmakers, including Indian parliamentary panels on information technology (IT) and finance, five sources said.
The industry also discussed approaching media and Internet groups to explain why data localization would be bad for India’s booming IT, e-commerce and payments landscape, the sources said.

“People are fairly stressed and scared,” said an executive working for a multinational technology firm.

The US-India lobby group said it was “nearly impossible” to implement “industry-specific regulations in our global data environment without the ripples being felt.” It didn’t comment on its recent meeting, but said it will continue facilitating policy discussions.

Mastercard, American Express and Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment, while Facebook, Microsoft, Visa and PayPal declined to comment.

The Indian bill, which was opened for public comments this week, will later go to parliament for approval.
The US-India Business Council, a lobby group that is part of the US Chamber of Commerce, has brought in the Washington-headquartered law firm Covington & Burling to suggest submissions on India’s data protection law.

The firm’s 43-page draft recommendations, seen by Reuters, listed removing data localization requirements as a top priority and called New Delhi’s proposed move a “protectionist approach.”

The US-India Business Council didn’t comment on how it would act on the recommendations of Covington & Burling, which declined comment.
The lobby group’s president, Nisha Biswal, however said India’s draft privacy law was of “great importance,” and that the group would share its concerns with the government directly.


Saudi Arabia seeks stable, not soaring, oil prices

Updated 22 September 2018
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Saudi Arabia seeks stable, not soaring, oil prices

  • Due to market tightness, Brent rose to nearly $80 per barrel but deteriorated to $78.80 on Friday.
  • The average price for Brent crude per barrel over the past five months has been between $72.11 and $76.98

RIYADH: Oil prices rose this week on continuing market tightness. With the price rise, some Saudi-bashing has begun. Bloomberg reported that increasing prices were due to Saudi Arabia’s comfort with Brent crude above $80 per barrel. Such “analysis” is hogwash.

Due to market tightness, Brent rose to nearly $80 per barrel but deteriorated to $78.80 on Friday. WTI rose above $70 per barrel for the first time in three months and settled at $70.78 per barrel by the week closing.
The average price for Brent crude per barrel over the past five months has been between $72.11 and $76.98. As may be noted in those numbers, the Brent crude price has been resisting the psychological barrier of $80 per barrel. The fact is that, since October 2014, the Brent monthly average has never gone above $80.
The oil price outlook might be raised as a result of this upward tendency and the continuing tight oil market. For instance, with the latest numbers in hand, HSBC has revised its oil price forecast upward with Brent to average $80 per barrel in 2019 and $85 in 2020, before settling at about $75 in 2021.
Bloomberg was inaccurate about Saudi Arabia’s comfort with a Brent price above $80 per barrel. The Kingdom has never been among the bulls when it comes to oil prices. Again and again, Saudi Arabia has been a major advocate for stable oil prices, not increasing oil prices, which it views as unsustainable and damaging to the global economy. Bloomberg is also predicting that Saudi Arabia will follow its allegedly bullish nature and refrain from ramping up production to compensate for the oil lost once the US sanctions on Iran come into effect.
US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has confirmed that Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US are well able to add enough crude oil supply into the market to compensate for Iran. Indeed, the Kingdom has begun to increase output to adjust for market needs, from 9.87 million barrels per day (bpd) in April to 10.42 million bpd in August.
The upward movement in oil prices came after strong fundamentals showed market tightness that spurred record levels of speculative traders, with nearly all betting on higher prices. The price rise also recognized that total US inventories are below the five-year average for the first time since May 2014. Oil prices have been gradually trending upward with gentle fluctuations. There have not been any steep surges or declines. There is nothing artificial about the trend. In reality, it is boringly predictable.
Last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported OECD commercial crude oil inventories at 32 million barrels below the five-year average. Stocks at the end of Q2 2018 were up 6.6 million barrels versus the end of 1Q 2018, the first quarterly increase since 1Q 2017. The IEA also noted that global refinery throughputs in the second half of 2018 are expected to be 2 million barrels higher than in the first half of the year. These refined products stocks will draw down before building again in 4Q 2018.
Global crude oil inventories peaked in 2016. The OPEC+ agreement that worked for market balance was the reason for a fall in inventories. Since May 2017, global oil stocks have been on the decline and now global crude oil stocks are below the five-year average. Product stocks are also below that level, with strong demand and healthy refining margins.
Inventories have kept falling despite American producers pumping at all-time highs last month. It is only the massive flood of oil from the US which has kept crude oil prices at low levels from early 2015 to the end of 2017 — along with a resulting lack of upstream investment in the oil industry. Therefore, the IEA predicts that in 2022 spare production capacity will fall to a 14-year low.
Global oil markets are rebalancing. Oil prices started their upward momentum from the end of October 2017. They went above the psychological barrier $60 a barrel after 10 consecutive months of tireless efforts by OPEC and non-OPEC nations that started on January 2017. The market rebalancing will continue through the end of 2018, and beyond.
Such upward momentum in oil prices isn’t artificial movement because it came after many months without steep price fluctuations. In 2016, the Brent price average was $43. The 2017 Brent price average was $54, and prices just surpassed $60 in October 2017. The Brent average surpassed $70 in late March 2018 and has been hovering between $72 and $78 since. There is no evidence of a steep fluctuation or an artificial movement.
The claims of an artificial price movement have come just at the time when OPEC and the world are reaping the positive outcomes of 24 nations collaborating in output cuts that managed to successfully rebalance the oil market in a situation where global oil inventories were running at record highs. Also, these false claims came when the oil industry needs capital inflows to reactivate upstream investments for major international oil companies. Such investments are essential for the price stability that benefits oil producers and consumers globally. Low oil prices result in low investment in discovery and production of petroleum resources, which damages various industry sectors and energy needs. That leads to a vicious cycle of up-and-down price fluctuations.