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Anand Sharma upbeat on retail FDI

Nivedita Mookerji/ 19 Nov 12 | 12:51 AM

Three days before a stormy winter session of Parliament is slated to begin, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said the government did not foresee a situation where investors’confidence would be dampened over the Opposition parties’ protest against foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retailing.

Part of the official delegation accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the Association of South East Nations (Asean) summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, he was briefing the media on board the aircraft earlier on Sunday.

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Walmart, the world’s largest retail chain, has said it is investigating corruption allegations in its India operation, and in some other countries. A separate investigation by the enforcement directorate (ED) has also begun into the American company’s investments in India.

On if this would hurt retail FDI rollout, Sharma said, “There are agencies and authorities to look into allegations. I will not like to comment on that." He, however, said the retail FDI policy, was “cast in stone" and would not be reversed. Investor confidence would not be dampened, he added.

Attacking the critics of retail FDI, Sharma said it was time the “shrill sensationalism"", that had hurt India’s economy and investment climate was stopped.

One does not need the Opposition discourse when institutions and regulators are doing their work, the minister said, referring to the demand for a Parliament debate and voting on retail FDI over the Walmart issue. “I am surprised that the same government which was blamed for indecision earlier is now being criticised for its decisions," he said. “You can’t expect vetting of policy by those with a partisan agenda."

The ED is investigating an investment by the American chain in the Bharti group, to check for breaches of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

  • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on a hectic two and a half days’ visit to Phnom Penh, with back-to-back meetings all through. Six bilateral meetings with Asean members and one with Chinese PM Wen Jiabao, have been fixed. But, none with US President Barack Obama is on the agenda yet. Singh might, however, meet Obama, who’s clubbing Thailand and Burma with the Cambodia visit, at the gala world leaders’ dinner on Monday.
    Obama is in Phnom Penh to attend the East Asia summit
  • A little more than 100 people are travelling with the PM to the summit city. While the official delegation with Singh has 16 members, including top officials from the PM’s office and external affairs ministry, and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, the rest are made of doctors, security personnel, media and a cook
  • Phnom Penh’s international airport, which will be closed to the public for many hours on Tuesday due to VVIP rush as the Asean summit draws to a close, saw leaders from China, India and Korea arrive on Sunday. While the PM and the official delegation will stay in the luxury Cambodiana hotel, the bilateral meetings with other leaders will be hosted at other venues, including Hotel Sofitel, Intercontinental Hotel and Peace Palace. The gala dinner on Monday is fixed at the Diamond Island Convention
  • Even as there are hopes riding on the conclusion of the investment in services agreement with Asean, the government has not given any assurance. The services agreement will imply free flow of trade and people across professions in the services sector. Even grant of banking licences would come under the purview of such an agreement. On the status and time line of the pact getting concluded, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said negotiations were continuing. “We want to bring it to an early closure."
  • On the issue of high expectation from Asean countries and their disappointment at India’s slow delivery, Sharma asked, “Where are you getting this from?"
    Two-way trade between India and Asean accounts for about $75 billion. Sharma did not specify any target for where he sees the trade going, in terms of figures
  • While he was in an attacking mode, referring to the Opposition demand for a parliamentary motion on retail foreign direct investment, Sharma did not forget to take credit for the success story around Swedish furniture giant Ikea. He said three single-brand retail FDI proposals were cleared last month and a big one was set to get the Foreign Investment Promotion Board nod next week. Then he smiled, and named Ikea, whose proposal is slated to be taken up at FIPB on Tuesday
  • The business summit on the sidelines of the meet saw an interesting mix of global biggies. Officials at Phnom Penh said Indian businesses were missing in action. The business summit got over on Saturday

According to Sharma, this will be the first time in Indian democracy that an executive decision is being dragged into being the subject of a parliamentary motion. Opposition parties, including the ruling coalition’s former constituent, the Trinamool Congress, have called for such a motion.

The PM will attend the 10th India-Asean Summit, and the 7th East Asian Summit, on Monday and Tuesday in Phnom Penh. India is a dialogue partner of Asean, a 10-member body, to boost its look-East policy. Besides bilateral talks with Asean members, and with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, the government is launching negotiations for a comprehensive economic partnership between Asean and its free trade agreement partners.

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