Digital firms, traders to discuss e-commerce policy with Piyush Goyal

Topics ecommerce | Piyush Goyal

To overhaul the draft e-commerce policy and proposals on data localisation, digital commerce firms and trader organisations are coming up with their set of recommendations which they expect to discuss with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.  

The draft e-commerce policy and the proposals around data localisation were brought out right before the elections. Trader organisations have made it clear they want the e-commerce policy draft to be revamped; they believe it does not deal with issues of small retailers and traders.

Organisations such as the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) and Swadeshi Jagran Manch are planning to meet Goyal after he is back from his visit to Japan. Meanwhile, from understanding the broad contours of the final e-commerce policy to government’s plans on data protection law, public policy teams from various firms, including Amazon India, Flipkart, Facebook, among others, are planning to meet senior officials from the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), finance ministry as well as Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to understand the newly formed government’s stance on various issues.

According to sources at the DPIIT, chances are that further changes to the draft e-commerce policy would be made in the weeks to come.

According to CAIT, e-commerce policy should take within its ambit not only foreign players but also domestic ones. “There has to be a registration system for each and every e-commerce player, big or small. A clear distinction should be drawn between marketplace and others. In the policy, stringent penal provisions should be added, so that immediate and effective action can be taken against anyone violating the policy. The policy should put the brakes on predatory pricing, deep discounting, and loss funding, so as to provide a level playing field,” said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary-general CAIT.

After multiple self-imposed deadlines, the proposed e-commerce policy is now officially without a final time frame. Aimed at streamlining and regulating the digital business ecosystem, the policy has attracted criticism from the industry and other government agencies multiple times.

According to sources in the MeitY, the policy will not be finalised before the data protection law is passed. The two legislations have large areas of overlap, mostly in the area of data protection, and may contradict each other if not taken care of, say sources. Goyal has directed that talks should begin soon, asking DPIIT officials to call stakeholders back to the discussions table. Goyal will have to navigate through the differences between public and industry opinion regarding the policy that has diverged despite a long stakeholder consultation period.

“While the government has already held detailed discussions with technology companies, law firms, and industry associations over myriad aspects of the policy, provisions regarding data flows and foreign investment have been incorporated into the policy. We do not know what happened to the other issues such as e-commerce norms, trademark rights, and the extent to which online services will come under the policy hammer,” a senior functionary of the Confederation of Indian Industry said.

Meanwhile, civil society bodies and interest groups have also written to DPIIT Secretary Ramesh Abhishek, expressing concerns over the consultation process. In a letter sent to Abhishek last month, 13 such groups have called for publishing all comments received by the DPIIT as part of the public consultation. 

They have pointed out this is against established government practice, especially when many of the industry respondents have made their comments public.

The new draft of the policy is also likely have a section on harnessing e-commerce to push exports. Discussions on the matter kicked off last week, during an informal meet among academia, exporters, and officials from the DPIIT and the Department of Post.

  • Digital firms, trader bodies want the policy draft to be revamped
  • They claim it does not deal with issues of small retailers and traders
  • Chances are that changes to the draft  policy would be made in coming weeks

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