Amazon founder-CEO Jeff Bezos’ India visit, weeks before the government’s rollout of the National Ecommerce Policy, has led to headlines in both India and the United States. While the official reason for his visit was to inaugurate Amazon’s engagement with small businesses, the government cold-shouldering the world’s richest person by denying an appointment to meet either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or commerce minister Piyush Goyal took away the focus of this visit.
The three-day visit, ahead of the announcement of the National Ecommerce Policy, seems aimed at lobbying for ease regulations for foreign players. In October, Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, which owns Amazon’s competitor Flipkart, urged Mr Modi to ensure certainty and a predictable business climate in India. However, if Mr Modi denying an appointment is seen as a pointer, the government may act tough against foreign ecommerce players. The regulatory stance too has turned hostile to foreign ecommerce firms. Recently, the Competition Commission has begun a probe into deep discounts offered by Amazon and Flipkart.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Amazon’s CEO tried a charm offensive by promising an additional billion dollars of investment to boost small businesses’ sales on its platform. As a sweetener, Mr Bezos predicted exports from Indian small businesses on Amazon’s global platform would touch the $10-billion mark.
While scheduling issues were blamed for Mr Modi refusing an audience, there was speculation that it was a reaction to the editorial stand by the Washington Post, the iconic American newspaper Mr Bezos owns, on India’s actions in Kashmir and the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act. If this is the reason, the government should be advised caution as it should not forget that the UPA-2 government’s woes started after it locked horns with Vodafone on retrospective taxation. Global investors want a stable policy and any deviation for political reasons would be counter-productive for the economy.