Monday, October 28, 2013

Didn\'t violate Indian law: Walmart

NEW DELHI: US retail giant Wal-Mart continued lobbying for entry into India\'s lucrative multi-brand retail sector well into the third quarter of this year. Its omission of an India-specific entry in its second quarter disclosure report had led to media reports that Wal-Mart had stopped such efforts.

Wal-Mart\'s volte face came on October 21, a week after TOI sought the company\'s view on emails exchanged between its lobbyist and US trade representatives in both the second and the third quarters.

The emails revealed active lobbying regarding multi-brand retail in India, suggesting how the efforts may have helped in easing regulations in India. October 21 was also the last day for filing disclosures for the third quarter.

The US retailer\'s lobbying had drawn sharp criticism, forcing the Indian government to order an inquiry by a former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high Court Mukul Mudgal but the report of the panel remained inconclusive due to alleged non-cooperation by Wal-Mart.

The world\'s largest supermarket chain has said that it has not violated any Indian law and has disclosed information related to its lobbying activities as required by US regulations.

Wal-Mart has recently been cleared by the Enforcement Directorate in a separate investigation related to alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange and Management Act (Fema), a move which may help the firm aggressively pursue its India plans.

In a written statement sent to TOI on October 15 on the issue of lobbying, a Wal-Mart spokesperson said: \"Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and identified those in accordance with the law. There was no specific expectation that raising the issue would directly result in policy action in India.\"

The spokesperson insisted that their disclosure report \"shows that our business interest in India was discussed with US government officials ---along with 50 or more other topics during a three-month period.\" There is no mention of lobbying for access to the Indian market in the second quarter declarations.

However, Wal-Mart\'s third quarter disclosures which came a week after TOI sent a query does mention \"discussions regarding Foreign Direct Investment in India\".

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), shows evidence of lobbying by Wal-Mart representatives with US Trade Representative (USTR), the agency responsible for developing and recommending United States trade policy to the president of the United States, conducting trade negotiations at bilateral and multilateral levels.

Wal-Mart Inc\'s disclosure filed at the beginning of the second quarter, April 1 to June 30 does mention \'discussions regarding investments overseas\' and \'discussions regarding transatlantic trade and investment partnership\'. But India or FDI in multibrand retail does not figure in the report. The omission of an India-specific entry had led to media reports on how Wal-Mart had stopped lobbying in the US for access to the Indian market.
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