On Thursday, he had said Amazon was investing because it was incurring losses, comments that ignited a debate whether the snub, at a time when the firm’s founder Jeff Bezos is in India, was intended to drive home a sharp point over alleged underpricing and product manipulation seen to hurt Indian businesses.
“I was only saying that investment should come as per rules and regulations,” Goyal said at an event in Ahmedabad, adding that his comments on Thursday should be seen in this perspective.
Critics had slammed Goyal’s statement on Thursday, arguing that India needed investment to accelerate growth. Officials, however, said Goyal’s comments betrayed a deepening frustration with Amazon and some other global chains refusing to be transparent in their methods.
Since taking charge as commerce & industry minister, Goyal has held several rounds of discussion with the Amazon India team led by CEO Amit Agarwal and had asked them to ensure compliance with domestic laws “in letter and spirit”.
The government believes that overseas retailer operations are multi-layered and they resort to predatory pricing, putting the livelihood of thousands of small traders in India at risk. Government sources said there were concerns that algorithms used by these firms allowed unfair competition by giving preference to related entities, some of which were partly owned by them.
Goyal on Friday amplified the point, saying big-ticket investments in the retail sector should not hurt small traders who do not have deep pockets. “Our country has some rules for the e-commerce industry. We welcome all those investments which come as per these rules. However, it should not create unfair competition for the small traders of India. They do not get 0% loans. They do not have lakhs and crores of rupees. They do business with small capital,” he said.
The minister said that if investments are not within the framework of law, then legal action would be initiated. “Our government wants to ensure that unfair competition is not created for crores of small traders and retailers of the country,” Goyal tweeted.
The country’s fairplay watchdog, the Competition Commission of India, has launched an investigation against Flipkart and Amazon to examine if they are complying with local laws. Globally, there is now a backlash against e-commerce players as they are seen to be disruptive for mom-and-pop stores.