BJP open to discussing FDI in multi-brand retail

New Delhi : The BJP may review its opposition to the entry of foreign equity in multi-brand retail if its “apprehensions” are removed.

Party vice-president Shanta Kumar said the BJP, though opposed to foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, is open to discussing the issue. The main opposition party, he said, can think along the same lines as the government, which took the decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail Nov 24 but suspended it following stiff resistance from allies like the Trinamool Congress and the opposition.

“There should be discussion (on FDI in retail). We should also be open-minded… If our apprehensions are removed (by the government), we can think accordingly,” Kumar, who heads parliament’s standing committee on commerce, said .

The new line of thinking in the BJP seems almost as a response to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who last week used the issue as a poll weapon in Uttar Pradesh and damned the opposition for sabotaging the move, saying it would have given farmers a higher return on their produce. He said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would implement the suspended policy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also said the government will explore the possibility of implementing its decision after consulting opposition parties post-assembly elections in five states.

Kumar said the government’s decision came even as the standing committee was looking at the issue. “It was (tantamount to) disrespect to the standing committee.”

“I can’t understand what the compulsion was. It was a hasty and untimely decision. There were issues of price rise, black money and allegations against Chidambaram relating to the 2G scam. I think they wanted to divert attention,” added Kumar.

Kumar, a former union minister, said the then standing committee on commerce headed by Murli Manohar Joshi had given a “unanimous” report in 2009 that there should be no FDI in multi-brand retail.

“The government was to send the ATR (Action Taken Report) on the standing committee recommendations. We had to send reminders that ATR had not been sent,” Kumar said, adding that the members of the present standing committee were not satisfied with the ATR.

“We called the secretary and there was a long discussion why the government wants to bring in FDI. The committee was not satisfied with the replies. We (have) sought some more clarifications,” he said.

Kumar indicated that the standing committee would give its report in the next three-four months.

Rejecting arguments that FDI will help reduce post-harvest losses of fruits and vegetables, the former Himachal Pradesh chief minister said it was the government’s duty to build infrastructure to take farm produce to consumers.

“India is among the top 10 countries in terms of gross domestic product. We have undertaken big tasks. Why can’t the government and the private sector create this infrastructure? What is the technology so special that we can’t do it?”

He said the retail trade is the biggest employer after agriculture in the country and FDI in multi-brand retail would lead to unemployment.

“Small shopkeepers will not be able to sustain. There will be huge unemployment,” Kumar said, adding that retail turnover of Walmart was more than the annual budget of the union government.

“Big corporates and capitalist powers are eyeing the world’s biggest middle class market,” Kumar said.

Asked if the decision to oppose FDI in multi-brand retail went against the BJP’s free market instincts, he said the party had never supported the decision though it found a mention in the 2004 manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

“We never supported it. It is a decision on merit. A lot of people with small earnings depend on retail trade.”

Kumar said the norms stipulated by the government for global retail chains to procure 30 percent from small and medium enterprises will be difficult to implement as these stores will import their needs from China which has emerged as a low-cost manufacturing destination.

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