E-commerce firms being probed on small traders' complaints: Piyush Goyal

Goyal said the government may bring certain clarifications so that the sector works in sync with the policy
Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday warned those companies, including multinational corporations, which are violating provisions of the e-commerce policy to mend their ways. He said various complaints given by consumers and small retailers about them are being investigated. 

While he ruled out changing the e-commerce policy per se, he said the government may bring certain clarifications so that the sector works in sync with the policy. 

"There is no change in e-commerce policy per se. The policy is very robust, well designed, and operating in India in several sectors. However, there are certain complaints from consumers and small retailers about certain practices of e-commerce companies which are under investigation. We have sought several information. They are being looked into," Goyal told reporters here.

Reiterating that these platforms are only a service provider, he said," those who break these laws will certainly have to respond to our concerns and correct their business practices at the earliest." 

He reiterated the basic principles of the policy, asserting that e-commerce ought to provide an agnostic platform for buyers and sellers to trade with each other, and should not become part of trading transaction itself. The platform should not have algorithms that push one product at the cost of another, nor should it promote its own products. It should, instead, provide all data required for rational choices. 

"We believe that buyers and sellers should be given an opportunity to trade with each other," he said.

Traders and consumers have complained that MNCs and domestic corporate companies dealing in goods such as mobile, FMCG goods, electronics, electrical appliances sports & fitness centres and others appear to be hand in glove with e-commerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart in the game of predatory pricing and deep discounting.

Waive Covid vaccines from TRIPS agreement

Goyal was hopeful that the new director general at the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, would bring life back to multilateralism. 

"We are very happy that Okonjo-Iweala is going to be the new WTO director general of WTO. We have lots of expectations. We hope that the appellate body would be put in place quickly. We hope that various negotiations going on pluralistic basis will  move to multilateral negotiations on ecommerce and other areas," he said.

Goyal said India along with South Africa has given a joint proposal for a waiver from TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement to support the Covid-19 vaccine availability or any other medicine that may emerge in the future to all the countries of the world , particularly less developed  or developing countries, at affordable prices. 

"About 100 countries have already supported us at WTO. There is some resistance from the developed world. We are working along with other countries to try and come to a common position," he said. 

Goyal believed that under the new D-G of WTO there would be fast conclusions of fisheries subsidies negotiations so that countries like India which have suffered due to disadvantages of certain countries giving large subsidies to their fisheries sector can be addressed and removed. "We also believe that fisheries subsidies should be based on a polluter pays principle so that developing countries like India has a policy space and we continue to support the sector, at least propotional to the support that the developed world is giving, at a significant period of time. "

FDI liberalisation:

Is there any other sector where foreign direct investment is restricted other than multi-brand retail?, asked Goyal when asked whether FDI will be further liberalised. "Only multi-brand retail trading is there where FDI is restricted and we are not thinking of any change there." 

PLI for Food processing sector:

A production -linked scheme is being prepared for food processing sector, Goyal said while disclosing that his ministry is planning to bring a new foreign trade policy from April one, 2021. 

FTA Review and limited deal with US:

Goyal said India has free trade agreements (FTA) with Japan, Korea and Asean countries. "Review of FTA with Korea is already underway. On FTA with Japan and ASEAN we are planning to prepare a roadmap and a paper so that we can start the reviews quickly," he said.

He said India has comparative advantages to look at greater engagement with developed world like the US, UK, EU. 

"The US just had a change in the administration and we are waiting for the new US trade representative to be confirmed. Once the new US trade representative is in office, we will start a dialogue with them, to look at how we can expand our business, and international engagement with them, both through market access, tariffs," Goyal said. 

The minister said he will have to wait for the new USTR to come in. "We have to hear from the new administration what is in their mind. We also have certain thoughts about it. It is only after engagement with the new administration that we can comment on the limited trade deal with the US," he said.  

He said he had wonderful sets of engagements with UK secretary of state for international trade Elizabeth Truss last week.

"We both agreed to work on a mission mode towards enhanced trade partnership leading to free trade agreement. We also had a very high level dialogue with the EU and both sides have agreed to have officials restart the discussions on the relevant tracks," Goyal disclosed. 

Minimum support price

Goyal said MSP given to various crops by India is WTO-compliant. Recently, a WTO paper had termed it distorting policy measures. "We have a peace clause for our public procurement purposes. We are permitted to buy from the market place and the MSP operations that we are currently doing are completely WTO compliant," he said. 

Exports:

Goyal said growth in merchandise exports in December and January came in the backdrop of the US and several countries in Europe, being in different stages of lockdown and all having significant Covid related issues at present. 

"Considering roll out of vaccines going forward across the world , I do expect activity in the developed world to pick up quickly and we will be able to continue the trend of growing exports. The Government is also doing lots of handholding to support our industry. I hope this would continue to show in our exports," he exuded confidence. 


Dear Reader,


Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel