Ministries, regulators sufficient to decide FDI proposals' fate: Sitharaman

Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Photo: PTI
With the government sounding the death knell for the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), foreign investment proposals may now be directly considered by various line ministries and regulatory bodies.

An inter-ministerial body under the Finance Ministry, the FIPB processes proposals for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) entering the country.

Speaking to reporters, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said that of the only 6-7 per cent of sectors not covered under automatic route, every department already has a departmental framework or a regulator for it.

"If there is a regulator for a concerned department, that is sufficient to take care of investment proposals which are coming in and for them to be screened," Sitharaman said.

While the FIPB had the final say in approving FDI proposals in the country for long, its power has been systematically reduced under the current government. Most notably, back in June 2016, the government had announced relaxed FDI norms in a large number of sectors including single brand retail, pharmaceuticals, animal husbandry and food products.

Even though more than 90 per cent of all sectors are currently allowed under the automatic route, full or partial investments in sectors considered sensitive by the government like defence, media and broadcasting, aviation and telecom continues to need the FIPB approval.

Currently, the Finance Minister considers the recommendations of FIPB on proposals with total foreign equity inflow of and below Rs 5,000 crore. The recommendations of FIPB on proposals with total foreign equity inflow of more than Rs 5,000 crore is placed for consideration of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

The CCEA will continue to decide on important matters, a senior government official said under conditions of anonymity.

Incoming FDI grew 27 per cent in the first seven months of the financial year 2016-17 to $27.82 billion from $21.87 billion a year ago. Manufacturing accounted for 41.5 per cent of the total equity inflows into the country during April-October 2016, according to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion's (DIPP) year-end review.

The figures for net FDI inflow as a proportion to GDP have risen sharply after the current government took office, but it is still 1.7 per cent, compared to 2.8 per cent of China or 4.9 per cent in the case of Vietnam - the highest among major developing countries.

H1B visa issue

On the contentious issue of H1-B visas, used by IT professionals heading to the United States becoming expensive, Sitharaman said the government will hold stakeholder consultations with the industry.

After the current Parliament session ends, the government will talk to major IT industry players as well as Nasscom.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, introduced in the United States lower house of Parliament calls for doubling the minimum salary that an H1-B visa applicant should have for qualifying to $130,000 from the current minimum wage of $60,000.

Industry body Nasscom has announced its plans to take a delegation of senior executives to Washington DC later this month to reach out to the new US administration. According to its estimates, the proposed overhaul of the H-1B visa regime may result in higher operational costs and shortage of skilled workers for the $110 billion Indian outsourcing industry.

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