Walmart in warning about India e-commerce rules

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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, left, and Flipkart CEO Binny Bansal (AFP)
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Walmart said that, in line with the company’s commitment to India, it looked forward to contributing to the country’s retail ecosystem. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019
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Walmart in warning about India e-commerce rules

  • Company told US government that new Indian regulations were regressive

NEW DELHI: Walmart told the US government privately in January that India’s new investment rules for e-commerce were regressive and had the potential to hurt trade ties, a company document seen by Reuters showed.
The lobbying effort yielded no result at the time — India implemented the new rules from Feb. 1 — but the document underlines the level of concern at Walmart about the rules. Differences over e-commerce regulations have become one of the biggest issues in frayed trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
“It came as a total surprise ... this is a major change and a regressive policy shift,” Walmart’s Senior Director for Global Government Affairs Sarah Thorn told the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in an an email on Jan. 7.
Just months earlier, Walmart had invested $16 billion in Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, its biggest ever acquisition globally.
In a statement to Reuters on Thursday, Walmart said it regularly offers input to the US and Indian governments on policy issues and this was a “past issue and Walmart and Flipkart are looking ahead.”
“Walmart has had good consultations with the government of India,” a company spokeswoman added.
The USTR did not respond to a request for comment.
In the January letter to the USTR, Walmart said it wanted a six-month delay in the implementation of the rules, but that did not happen. Washington did raise concerns about the policy with New Delhi, but India gave a non-committal response, an Indian trade ministry official told Reuters at the time.
Walmart’s problems in India highlight the regulatory complications it faces as it restructures its international business to boost growth and online sales. Mexico’s competition regulator recently blocked its acquisition of delivery app Cornershop, while in Britain it was stopped from merging its British arm Asda with rival Sainsbury’s.
These issues, however, have failed to unnerve Walmart investors. Walmart shares have risen 21 percent, compared with a 19 percent increase for the S&P 500 since the start of the year.
A USTR delegation led by Christopher Wilson, Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia, was to meet Indian officials in New Delhi on Friday to resume discussions on trade ties and the e-commerce issue was likely to be high on the agenda.
In its January representation, Walmart told the USTR that India’s new policy wasn’t good for global businesses, highlighting that its foreign direct investment would help Flipkart grow and result in “significant” tax revenues for New Delhi.
“Changing rules to hinder international business following major investments ... will have important implications for India FDI goals and add unnecessary pressure to trade discussions,” Walmart said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Walmart strongly protested India e-commerce rules with US government.

• The lobbying failed but document shows how concerned Walmart was.

• Walmart warned policy could strain India-US trade ties: document.

• Walmart calls it past issue, says company looking ahead.

The new rules barred companies from selling products via firms in which they have an equity interest and also from making deals with sellers to sell exclusively on their platforms.
Amazon.com removed thousands of products from its India website briefly in February as it initially struggled to comply with the new policy. Flipkart was forced to rework some of its vendor relationships, sources told Reuters at the time.
The policy, implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi months before his re-election in May, was seen aimed at winning the support of small Indian
traders, who had long complained they were losing business due to the steep discounts offered by foreign e-commerce giants.
“The action appears in every respect ... intended to placate Indian companies and local traders,” Walmart told the USTR.
Reuters obtained the two-page representation Walmart sent to the USTR through a Freedom of Information Act request first filed in January. The USTR in February provided a heavily-redacted version of the document, citing confidentiality reasons. In consultation with Walmart, it withdrew most of those redactions this week following an appeal from Reuters.
Although Reuters asked for both Amazon and Walmart’s communications, the USTR responded saying it found only one email with Walmart’s representation between Dec. 22 and Jan. 28, the period for which the records were searched.
Since the policy has been announced, Indian oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries has repeatedly talked about its plans to diversify into e-commerce.
Walmart’s document released to Reuters did not name Reliance, but the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company argued the policy discriminated against foreign firms, and not just in favor of small domestic players.
“The purported rationale of such regulations is to protect small retail players who are seen to be threatened,” Walmart said, but added: “This argument does not account for why there should be differentiated treatment between large foreign eCommerce companies, and large domestic companies.”
In the past six months, several Walmart executives have also weighed in publicly on India’s new e-commerce policy, including Chief Executive Doug McMillon, who said in February the company was disappointed by the Indian government’s decision.
“We hope for a collaborative regulatory process going forward, which results in a level playing field,” he said.
India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has said the government was committed to protecting small traders, but open to ironing out policy-related issues. Goyal said on Twitter on Wednesday he had met Walmart International’s CEO, Judith McKenna, and discussed ways of boosting sales of Indian-made products.
In a meeting last month, however, Goyal warned both Flipkart and Amazon to comply with the new rules in letter and spirit, and questioned them on their discounting policies, Reuters reported.
The Walmart spokeswoman on Thursday said that, in line with the company’s commitment to India, it looked forward to contributing to the country’s retail ecosystem.
Amazon was not aware of Walmart’s January representation to the USTR, according to sources. The company in a statement said it continued to engage with New Delhi to enhance infrastructure and create jobs.
Walmart told the USTR in January that its unit Flipkart, as well as Amazon, had opened many new distribution centers over the past three years in India, creating thousands of jobs.
It warned of “serious consequences” if the new policy was implemented hastily. “The lack of policy stability makes it very difficult for companies to continue planned investments, both in the eCommerce sector and beyond,” Walmart wrote.


BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

Oliver Zipse
Updated 19 July 2019
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BMW picks insider Zipse as CEO to catch up with rivals

  • German giant has lost ground to Mercedes-Benz and Tesla as tech steps up

FRANKFURT: BMW has named Oliver Zipse as its new CEO, continuing the German carmaker’s tradition of promoting production chiefs to the top job even as the auto industry expands into new areas such as technology and services.
Hailing Zipse’s “decisive” leadership style, BMW hopes the 55-year-old can help it win back its edge in electric cars and the premium market  from rival Mercedes-Benz.
But some analysts questioned whether Zipse was the right choice with new fields such as software and services like car-sharing becoming increasingly important.
“What is intriguing is the cultural bias to appoint the head of production. It works sometimes but ... being good at building cars is not a defining edge the way it was 20 years ago,” said Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois.
Current CEO Harald Krueger, and former chiefs Norbert Reithofer, Bernd Pischetsrieder and Joachim Milberg were all former production heads.
Zipse joined BMW as a trainee in 1991 and served as head of brand and product strategies and boss of BMW’s Oxford plant in England before joining the board.
He will become chief executive on Aug. 16, taking over from Krueger who said he would not be available for a second term.
“With Oliver Zipse, a decisive strategic and analytical leader will assume the Chair of the Board of Management of BMW. He will provide fresh momentum in shaping  the future,” said Reithofer.
Zipse helped expand BMW’s efficient production network in Hungary, China and the US, in a move that delivered industry-leading profit margins.
Under Krueger, BMW was overtaken in 2016 by Mercedes-Benz as the best-selling luxury car brand.
It also had an early lead over US  rival Tesla in electric cars, but scaled back ambitions after its i3 model failed to sell large numbers.
Reithofer initially championed Krueger’s low-key consensus-seeking leadership, but pressured him to roll out electric vehicles more aggressively, forcing Krueger to skip the Paris Motor Show in 2016 to reevaluate BMW’s electric strategy.
Krueger’s reluctance to push low-margin electric vehicles led to an exodus of talented electric vehicle experts, including Christian Senger, now Volkswagen’s (VW) board member responsible for software, and Audi’s Markus Duesmann, who is seen as a future CEO of the company.
Both were poached by VW CEO Herbert Diess, a former BMW board member responsible for research who was himself passed over for BMW’s top job in 2015.
VW has since pushed a radical 80 billion euro ($90 billion) electric car mass production strategy, and a sweeping alliance with Ford.

Other skills
“A CEO needs to have an idea for how mobility will evolve in the future. This goes far beyond optimising an existing business,” said Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of China-based ICONIQ motors, and former BMW engineer. “He needs to build teams, attract talent, and promote a culture oriented along consumer electronics and internet dynamics.”
German manufacturers have dominated the high-performance market for decades, but analysts warn shifts towards sophisticated technology and software is opening the door to new challengers.
“Tesla has a lead of three to four years in areas like software and electronics. There is a risk that the Germans can’t catch up,” UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport car magazine, normally quick to champion German manufacturers, this week ran a cover questioning BMW’s future.
“Production expertise is important, but if you want to avoid ending up being a hardware provider for Google or Apple, you need to have the ability to move up the food chain into data and software,” a former BMW board member said.