The Government of India opened the floodgates for foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail trading, on September 14, 2012; thereby boosting the investors’ confidence towards the Indian market and economy. The government, thus, decided to give green signal to FDI up to 51 per cent, under the government route, in multi-brand retail trading. It was clearly stated that at least 50 per cent of the total FDI shall be invested in backend infrastructure within three years of the first tranche of FDI. The government also specifically mentioned that at least 30 per cent of the procurement of manufactured or processed products shall be directed from ‘small industries’ which have a total investment in plant and machinery, not exceeding USD 1 million. The government also allayed the state’s fears by clarifying that it is an enabling policy, therefore, leaving it up to the states to take their own decisions with regard to allowing FDI in multi-brand retail trading in those states.
India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. But the sad fact lingering over it is also that it has very limited integrated cold chain infrastructure and storage facilities, hence causing heavy losses to farmers in terms of wastage in quality and quantity of the fruits and vegetables. Along with it, this chain is highly fragmented, and thus, the perishable horticultural products find it difficult to link to far-away markets, including foreign markets, round the year. Adding to it, it is shameful to note that the post-harvest losses of the farm produce, due to lack of adequate storage facilities, have been estimated to be over Rs. 1 trillion per annum. As a result, Indian farmers can only realise one-third of the total price paid by the final consumer as against two-third with a higher degree of retail. A 2007 World Bank study also highlights that the average price a farmer receives for horticulture produce is merely 12-15 per cent of what is paid at the retail outlet. Adding to this is the wastage of fruits and vegetables and food grains. In the midst of all these inadequacies, the government is also bearing the brunt of high food inflation. As a result of sky-rocketing inflation figures, the farmers are also not getting remunerative prices for their produce. Hence, after several rounds of deliberations with several stakeholders, the government gave green signal to FDI in multi-brand retail trading.
With FDI in multi-brand retail trading, the farmers will get better remunerations for their produce. The farmers will also get better prices from the heavy reduction in post-harvest losses. It will also result in the strengthening of the backend infrastructure and lead to direct purchase by the retailers. The yes-to-FDI in multi-brand retail trading will also result in the strengthening of the supply-chain infrastructure for all products, ranging from storage to processing and manufacturing infrastructure, which would reduce post-harvest losses. Organsiedretail would also drastically reduce the number of needless middlemen.
The most advantaged section with the implementation of this policy would be the consumers. From the reduction in prices that would result from the supply chain efficiencies to the improvement in the quality of the products, the consumers are going to be benefitted the most. Along with this, food safety standards would also get better with improvised testing and aggregation facilities. The consumers would also have more choices to pick from. This policy measure is most likely to benefit the poorest sections of the society. Lowering of prices would arrest the erosion of real incomes and the current incomes of the economically disadvantaged sections would hence be able to buy more than before.
Advantage Small Retailers
Foreign direct investment in the retail sector would also incentivise the existing traders and retail outlets to upgrade and become more efficient. This would usher better services to the consumers, and also good remunerations to the producers from whom they source the products. A concern that the small retailers will get displaced by allowing FDI is completely misplaced. It is to be noted here that domestic organised retail services are already provided by entities like Big Bazaar, Shoppers Stop, Croma, Reliance Fresh among others in different parts of India. More interestingly, it constitutes only four per cent of the retail trade and co-exists with small kirana stores and the unorganised retail sector. There has been a strong competitive response from traditional retail to these organised retailers through technology upgradation. As a result, the organised retail chains have closed down in a number of locations, while others have reduced the scale and spread of their operations. Globally too organised and unorganised retail co-exist and grow. Small retailers would continue to be able to source high quality produce, at significantly lower prices, from wholesale cash and carry points. In countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Singapore, Argentina and Chile, where there are no caps on FDI and where there are no conditions, small retail stores have flourished, leading to more employment. Therefore, it is a white lie to state that FDI in multi-brand retail trade will force small retailers to shut down.
Small and medium manufacturers are also going to be benefitted as 30 per cent sourcing from these industries has been made mandatory. This would provide the necessary scales for these entities to expand their capacities in manufacturing, hence adding up to the employed population and also boosting the manufacturing sector of the country. These industries also stand to get added advantages of technology upgradation, which would give them an upper hand in productivity and local value addition, thereby raising the profitability and earnings of the small manufacturers. The 30 per cent sourcing norm would also help the small enterprises to get integrated with the global retail chains. New manufacturing opportunities will also open for the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises.
FDI in multi-brand retail trading will also help a large number of young people from rural areas to join the workforce. Youth from the villages spread across the country can engage themselves in activities ranging from backend to the frontend retail business, as also from the skills imparted to them by the prospective investors.
Advantage Employment and Reduction in Inflation
Investments in the organised retail sector will see gainful employment opportunities in agro-processing, sorting, marketing, logistic management, small manufacturing sector like textiles and apparel, construction, IT, and other infrastructure. The most important aspect of FDI in retail is that it will significantly increase the number of jobs in the front-end. According to a study conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in 2008, as per the industry estimates of the employment of one person per 350-400 sq. ft. of retail space, about 1.5 million jobs will be created in the front-end alone in the next five years. Assuming that 10 per cent extra people are required for the back-end, the direct employment generated by the organised retail sector in India over the coming five years will be close to 1.7 million jobs. The study also suggested that with direct buying from the farmers, improving supply chain inefficiencies, bettering storage capabilities to control supply/demand imbalances, inflation could also be tamed.
It can thus be concluded that opening up multi-brand retail trading to foreign direct investment would have a multiplier impact on Indian economy. It would act as a strong catalyst for drawing investments in the food processing sector. This would also be a driver for economic growth by accelerating demand.
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