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.


China central bank moves to support financial institutions

Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen on a counter of a branch of a commercial bank in Beijing, China, March 30, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 July 2019
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China central bank moves to support financial institutions

  • Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31

BEIJING: China’s central bank offered medium-term loans to financial institutions on Tuesday in an attempt to get more affordable funds to struggling smaller firms, as it steps up efforts to support a slowing economy.
With growth in China sliding to a near 30-year low, global financial markets are closely watching to see if the People’s Bank
of China (PBOC) will trim interest rates soon in line with expected easing by other central banks.
While the PBOC left rates on the medium-term loans unchanged on Tuesday, and the injection had been expected, it funneled more lower-cost funds into a credit program aimed specifically at reducing strains on small and medium-sized businesses.
The PBOC lent 497.7 billion yuan ($72.31 billion), including 200 billion yuan through one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans and another 297.7 billion yuan through targeted medium-term lending facility (TMLF) loans, it said in a statement.
The size of the TMLF funding was 11 percent larger than the last such injection in April.
Interest rates for both liquidity facilities were unchanged from previous levels. The one-year MLF and TMLF remained at 3.30 percent and 3.15 percent, respectively.
The total amount roughly offset 502 billion yuan of MLF loans that were set to expire on Tuesday,
ensuring a steady supply of cash.
“Replacing some MLF with TMLF effectively cut funding costs. We should focus on the lower rate, instead of the net drainage on the day,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

The central bank said banking system liquidity will be “reasonably ample” after the lending operations.
About 160 billion yuan in reverse repos were also set to expire on Tuesday, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. The PBOC did not say in its statement whether it had drained funds from money markets on Tuesday.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

Some traders said Tuesday’s moves were in line with the PBOC’s support measures since last year, which have been aimed at getting more affordable financing to small and private companies.
While Chinese regulators have urged banks to keep lending to distressed firms, such companies are often considered higher credit risks than big, state-owned enterprises.
Traders and analysts still expect the PBOC to cut rates on some of its liquidity tools in coming months.
The PBOC has already slashed banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) six times since early 2018 to free up more money to lend, while guiding short-term market rates lower through liquidity injections in various forms.
Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31.
Cheung from Westpac said it was still possible the PBOC could lower the MLF rate after the Fed’s policy decision.
She also has pencilled in a 50 basis-point RRR cut this quarter, and another in the fourth quarter.