x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Indian government to probe Walmart lobbying over retail reforms

Walmart allegedly spent millions of dirhams on lobbying in Washington to ease access to India's retail markets.

NEW DELHI // The central government yesterday promised an inquiry into the spending of millions of dirhams by the US supermarket chain Walmart on lobbying in Washington to ease access to India's retail markets.

Walmart, which will be able to open stores in India after recent reforms, has said there was nothing illegal about the practice and the US State Department also stated no laws had been broken.

Allegations of any foreign interference that may influence government policy are a sensitive subject in India, however. Opposition parties jumped on the disclosures to try to embarrass the government.

"We will take all steps to unearth all the facts in this regard," Kamal Nath, the parliamentary affairs minister, said after protests by MPs forced parliament to be adjourned. "We have no hesitation in having an inquiry."

Walmart issued a statement flatly rejecting accusations by India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party that it was guilty of bribery.

"These allegations are entirely false," it said. "The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with US federal lobbying contacts ... all in the United States.

"Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues."

Walmart, in a disclosure report to the US senate, has said it spent US$25 million (Dh91.8m) on lobbying, including issues related to "enhanced market access for investment in India".

The political ruckus in New Delhi came the week after the Congress-led government won two parliamentary votes for its policy to allow in foreign supermarkets as part of its push to revive the faltering economy.

Opposition parties hope to tap into fears that the arrival of chains such as Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour will drive millions of small independent shops out of business.