Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

From around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 May 2019

Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

  • Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors
  • After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers said they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies

NEW DELHI: Foreign companies in India have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory for the political stability it brings, but now they need to see him soften a protectionist stance adopted in the past year.
Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors, with US firms such as Amazon.com , Walmart and Mastercard committing billions of dollars in investments and ramping up hiring.
India is also the biggest market by users for firms such as Facebook Inc, and its subsidiary, WhatsApp.
But from around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology, crafting some policies that appeared to aim at whipping up patriotic fervor ahead of elections.

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“I hope he’s now back to wooing businesses,” said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy analyst based in New Delhi, who advises global tech firms.
“Global firms remain deeply concerned about the lack of policy stability or predictability, this has sent a worrying message to global investors.”
India stuck to its policies despite protests and aggressive lobbying by the United States government, US-India trade bodies and companies themselves.
Small hurdles
Modi was set to hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet after election panel data showed his Bharatiya Janata Party had won 302 of the 542 seats at stake and was leading in one more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.
After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers told Reuters they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies.
Other investors hope the government will avoid sudden policy changes on investment and regulation that catch them off guard and prove very costly, urging instead industry-wide consultation that permits time to prepare.
Protectionism concerns “are small hurdles you have to go through,” however, said Prem Watsa, the chairman of Canadian diversified investment firm Fairfax Financial, which has investments of $5 billion in India.
“There will be more business-friendly policies and more private enterprise coming into India,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Tech, healthcare and beyond
Among the firms looking for more friendly steps are global payments companies that had benefited since 2016 from Modi’s push for electronic payments instead of cash.
Last year, however, firms such as Mastercard and Visa were asked to store more of their data in India, to allow “unfettered supervisory access,” a change that prompted WhatsApp to delay plans for a payments service.
Modi’s government has also drafted a law to clamp similar stringent data norms on the entire sector.
But abrupt changes to rules on foreign investment in e-commerce stoked alarm at firms such as Amazon, which saw India operations disrupted briefly in February, and Walmart, just months after it invested $16 billion in India’s Flipkart.
Policy changes also hurt foreign players in the $5-billion medical device industry, such as Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, following 2017 price caps on products such as heart stents and knee implants.
Modi’s government said the move aimed to help poor patients and curb profiteering, but the US government and lobby groups said it harmed innovation, profits and investment plans.
“If foreign companies see their future in this country on a long-term basis...they will have to look at the interests of the people,” Ashwani MaHajjan, an official of a nationalist group that pushed for some of the measures, told Reuters.
That view was echoed this week by two policymakers who said government policies will focus on strengthening India’s own companies, while providing foreign players with adequate opportunities for growth.
Such comments worry foreign executives who fear Modi is not about to change his protectionist stance in a hurry, with one offical of a US tech firm saying, “I’d rather be more worried than be optimistic.”


General Motors and workers union contract expires, increases risk of strike

Updated 15 September 2019

General Motors and workers union contract expires, increases risk of strike

  • Union officials told General Motors they would let the contract lapse just before midnight Saturday
  • A strike by 49,200 union workers would bring to a halt GM’s US production

DETROIT: The four-year contract between General Motors and the United Auto Workers has expired as negotiations on a new deal continue.
Union officials told GM they would let the contract lapse just before midnight Saturday, increasing the risk of a strike as early as Sunday night. Union members working Sunday were to report as scheduled.
But there was a wrinkle. About 850 UAW-represented janitors who work for Aramark, a separate company, went on strike Sunday after working under an extended contract since March of 2018, the union said.
The strike covered eight GM facilities in Ohio and Michigan. Although UAW workers at GM are supposed to work, it wasn’t clear early Sunday whether the rank-and-file would cross their own union’s picket lines. GM said in a statement that it has contingency plans for any disruptions from the Aramark strike.
UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a letter to members that, after months of bargaining, both the union and GM are far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit-sharing.
The union’s executive leaders and a larger group of plant-level officials will meet Sunday morning to decide the union’s next steps.
The letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.
“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care, and job security, GM refuses to put hard working Americans ahead of their record profits,” Dittes, the union’s chief bargainer with GM, said in a statement Saturday night.
Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank, said the union could strike at GM after the contract expires.
“If they’re not extending the agreement, then that would leave them open to strike,” she said.
But GM, in a statement Saturday night, still held out hope for an agreement, saying it continues to work on solutions.
“We are prepared to negotiate around the clock because there are thousands of GM families and their communities — and many thousands more at our dealerships and suppliers — counting on us for their livelihood. Our goal remains on building a strong future for our employees and our business,” the GM statement said.
A strike by 49,200 union workers would bring to a halt GM’s US production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.
The union’s executive board was to meet early Sunday to talk about the union’s next steps, followed by a meeting in Detroit of plant-level union leaders from all over the country. An announcement was scheduled for after the meetings end.
If there is a strike, it would be the union’s first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.
The move by the union also comes as it faces an internal struggle over a federal corruption investigation that has touched its president, Gary Jones. Some union members are calling for Jones to step down while the investigation continues. But Friday night, union leaders did not remove Jones.
Union officials surely will face questions about the expanding investigation that snared a top official on Thursday. Vance Pearson, head of a regional office based near St. Louis, was charged with corruption in an alleged scheme to embezzle union money and spend cash on premium booze, golf clubs, cigars and swanky stays in California. It’s the same region that Jones led before taking the union’s top office last year. Jones has not been charged.
On Friday, union leaders extended contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler indefinitely, but the pact with General Motors was still set to expire Saturday night.
The union has picked GM, which is more profitable than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as the target company, meaning it’s the focus of bargaining and would be the first company to face a walkout. Picket line schedules already have been posted near the entrance to one local UAW office in Detroit.
Talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four US factories. The union has promised to fight the closures.