E-commerce firms ready to comply on 'country of origin' after DPIIT meeting

The government, however, claims the latest diktat is part of the broader
E-commerce firms have verbally agreed to check with sellers on the issue of displaying the country of origin next to products listed on their platforms after a meeting with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade on Wednesday. 

The companies have been told to give suggestions and information at the next meeting, to be held in about two weeks, about the challenges in implementing such a feature.

According to people aware of the proceedings, the virtual meeting was attended by about 15 companies, including Amazon, Flipkart, Paytm Mall, ShopClues, and JioMart. 

“The meeting was held to get stakeholder feedback on incorporating the country of origin next to products listed on different platforms. While companies said they will be able to make the technology-related changes for products being listed in the future, it was also made clear by the government that the responsibility for providing country of origin-related information lay with the seller and not the platform,” said one of the people aware of the discussions. 

The meeting came a day after the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) platform, which operates under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, made it mandatory for its listed sellers to specify the country of origin while registering new products on the portal.

The border stand-off with China has sparked a campaign to boycott Chinese products. The move to have GeM sellers specify the country of origin was seen by some as a way to lead by example and force large e-commerce firms to comply.

The government, however, claims the latest diktat is part of the broader ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliance) push. “There is no arm twisting being done here. This issue had come up earlier as well and companies have just been told to increase transparency on their platforms,” a senior official said.

The government has also decided not to release an official notification on the matter as of now, giving companies time to adapt. “Verbal commitments from the e-commerce players have been noted, and further discussions will take place soon, by which time companies are expected to begin the process after making necessary changes,” another official said.

Another reason cited for not issuing a notification is that the ministry plans to observe how the move is implemented and see if changes need to be made. These will then be incorporated in the e-commerce policy.

A Paytm Mall spokesperson said, “We welcome and wholeheartedly support the decision to promote Make in India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat. We are fully committed to promoting India-made products and the manufacturing sector in the country. We have already initiated discussions with our sellers, merchant partners on the next steps to drive this initiative further.”

Seller-side issues

While the onus of filling out the country of origin has been put on sellers, e-commerce companies’ officials said the challenge is that the millions of existing products already listed on the platforms don’t have those details and it would be very “time consuming” for sellers to mark the country of origin for those as well.

“The e-commerce companies have to check with their technology teams and decide how much time it would take for them,” said a person aware of Wednesday’s proceedings. “Tech enablement is just 40 per cent of the battle, the rest is about sellers wanting to include the information.”

Industry insiders said the move has been initiated keeping “public sentiment and optics” in mind, given that products go through a distributed supply chain today around the world.

For instance, finding out the country of origin in the case of unbranded products such as fidget spinners, for example, would be difficult and time-consuming. 

Meanwhile, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Wednesday supported the decision on mentioning country of origin. CAIT had raised a similar demand with Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal on June 15.

Praveen Khandelwal, secretary-general of CAIT, said the decision was a welcome step that will arm consumers with the knowledge of which country’s products they purchase and this will be a crucial element of CAIT’s “Boycott Chinese Goods” campaign. It said, according to available information, around 70 per cent of goods listed on various e-commerce portals were made in Chinese.

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