Authors: Navya Bhandari and Ayush Mehta*
Recently, Donald Trump was heard accusing China of “spreading” the Novel Coronavirus. Of late, there are sources which show that China initially hid information about the virus, which strengthen the claim that it’s a Chinese virus. COVID-19 has changed all dimensions of business, making it all the more uncertain. With crashing markets, stagnant growth, and job layoffs, the global economy is hard hit. Among such business uncertainties, it seems that China has emerged as the winner. The strength of this statement lies at the fact that while nations all over the world are at an all-time low, the Chinese economy has started to recover and so much that 96.6% of China’s large and medium sized firms have resumed operation.
In such a scenario, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, with a view to curb “opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” took a strong step and recently amended paragraph 3.1.1of the Consolidated FDI Policy, 2017. This article analyzes the said change in law and its repercussions thereof.
What strained the government to take this step?
On 12th April, the Chinese Central Bank increased its stake in HDFC bank by 1%. This led to widespread uproar among the Indian investors and public, and the Indian government was driven to the realization that Chinese firms may take advantage of India’s fragile economic condition and undertake similar actions. Taking hands on approach, the government, forced by the fears of hostile takeovers, decided to change the existing norms related to Foreign Direct Investments to protect investor interest.
Since a lot of sectors in India are open to 100% foreign investment, it compelled the government to act preemptively. Though the change has been made for investments from all land neighbours of India, it mainly hints at hijacks by Chinese firms.
Changes in the Legal Position Regarding FDI Norms
The government via a Press Note, introduced strategic changes in the FDI policy to curb takeovers and acquisitions of Indian companies in light of the falling stock prices on account of the COVID – 19 pandemic. However, this amendment in norms, though in action, is yet to be confirmed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under the Foreign Exchange Management Non-Debt Instruments Rules, 2019 (Non-Debt Rules) which govern foreign investments in India. It is pertinent to note that under the FEMA Rules, 2019, only RBI has been vested with the power to make regulations. Therefore, because the aforesaid notification was given out by the Ministry of Commerce, it is yet to be confirmed by the RBI.
FDI Policy in India
As per the FDI Policy in India, foreign investments can be done via two routes:
- Automatic route – Under the automatic route, the threshold for investments has been capped as per different sectors and it can be done without prior government approval.
- Government route – Under the government route for foreign investment, governmental approval is required.
Non-resident entities can invest in India, subject to the FDI Policy except in those sectors/activities which are prohibited. However, a citizen of Bangladesh or an entity incorporated in Bangladesh can invest only under the Government route. Similar restrictions are also placed on Pakistani entities and individuals.
The revised policy is designed taking cue from other European nations like France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Under the revised policy the government has narrowed the scope of investment, by placing it under strict governmental scrutiny in order to protect Indian interests.
Under Para 3.1.1 (a), “A non-resident entity can invest in India, subject to the FDI Policy, except in those sectors which are prohibited.” The change in the policy now brings investment from all those countries which share land borders with India or where the beneficial owner of an investment is situated in any such country or is a resident, under the government route.
Government approval is required not just for the future investments but also for the transfer of ownership of existing FDIs.
Paragraph 3.1.1 (b) reads, “In event of transfer of ownership of any existing or future FDI in an entity in India, directly or indirectly, which results in beneficial ownership falling within the restriction of clause (a), such subsequent change shall also require prior government approval.
Additionally, the use of the word ‘or’ between ‘directly’ and ‘indirectly’ in the norm makes the amendment inclusive and covers all modes through which any investment may be made.
While this decision will help India monitor hostile and opportunistic takeover of Indian companies, the fear of such takeovers is not just from neighbouring countries but from the world at large. The change in policy, which is narrowly focused on China, still leaves room for such actions from other parts of the world, though they are highly unlikely.
Analysis of the Amendment – Is it foolproof?
It is pertinent that the above changes have been made to FDI, and not to Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI). To the contrary, the recent HDFC bank stake increase was made through the FPI route.
In October, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), had reclassified FDI and FPI with a view to widen the scope of regulation. The new rules state that any investment below 10% stake through any route will be classified as FPI. This means, even direct investments below 10% stake will be classified as FPI, thus escaping the change in paragraph 3.1.1, which is only for FDI.
Moreover, there are certain aspects in which the norms are unsettled. The norms do not define what “beneficial ownership” means. Neither is the term defined in the FEMA or the Companies Act, 2013. Adding on, the regulation does not list the countries in particular. This leads to ambiguity regarding the fact that, whether investments from Hong-Kong will be treated differently or same as the investments from mainland China. Foreign Exchange Management (Establishment in India of a branch office or a liaison office or a project office or any other place of business) Regulations, 2016 treat the two differently.
After the dissolution of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, it is also unclear as to who will be responsible for granting the required permission for foreign investments.
Impact of the amendment on the economy
These pre-emptive changes have been made to take care of round – tripping of investment. However, there will be other significant impacts of the decision, especially on startups.
While the move to prevent China from taking advantage of the economic predicament is welcomed, it may have far-reaching implications on Indian startups, for whom Chinese investment has been paramount. Chinese investment is the stimulus for the impressive growth of Indian startups and of late Chinese venture capital funds and giants like Alibaba and Tencent have ramped up their investment in this sector to an extent that without their investment the future of Indian startups looks bleak. Currently at least 18/23 Indian unicorns, such as Paytm, Snapdeal, OYO, Ola are backed by Chinese investors.
The notification can be an impediment to growth. The new policy would force companies who depend on investments from China, to find new investors in this time when there would be none. The flow of capital from Europe and the US would also dry up due to their own economies heading towards a recession. The change in policy will not only affect the growth-stage startups but also unicorns who depend on such investment to keep the cash flowing.
While we agree that some measures are necessary to prevent India’s advantage being taken, a sectoral implementation of the policy would have been better. Given the plight of the Start-up industry in India, a liberal approach for this sector of the economy would have been more beneficial.
The restriction on investments will also impact the Make in India plan, as it had been luring Chinese manufacturers to set their units in the country and reducing imports to reduce the balance of trade deficit. However, as there are no exemptions mandated by the government in this regulation, it could very well dampen such initiatives.
China and WTO: The new conundrum
A Chinese spokesperson claimed that the barriers India has set, violate WTO’s principles of non-discrimination and are in contravention with the general trend of liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment.
However, China’s claims can be refuted by the fact that there is no denial of permission to invest, rather a change in the approval process. The policy does not result in any restriction of Chinese investment and hence cannot be considered as an impediment to facilitation of trade.
Way Ahead: Suggestions and Conclusion
It is the government’s duty to take every possible step to protect the interest of Indian companies. While the prompt actions of the Indian government are appreciated, it is expected that another notification by the government clears the ambiguity in relation to the list of countries, who a beneficial owner is and specifying the authority for granting permissions.
Another aspect that has to be taken care of is the booming startup industry in India, which is heavily dependent on Chinese firms for funding. In the already collapsing economy, smaller startups who are not financially strong need more capital injection to stay afloat. Whilst altering rules for FDI and FPI, the government should lay a clear roadmap and provide some relief or alternate measures.
The government should also consider excluding sectors which have prospects to create a huge number of jobs and companies with existing 100% Chinese ownership. An exemption of investments by ‘pooled companies,’ in which Chinese companies do not have controlling capacities would also be beneficial.
India being an attractive investment destination for Chinese investors, is vulnerable to hostile takeovers at this point. Therefore, although this decision hinders and is an impediment for all such investments, it surely will go a long way to protect hostile takeovers. In toto, the regulation is a welcomed move.
*Navya Bhandari and Ayush Mehta are pursuing 5 year law from National Law Universiry Jodhpur.
Blue Economy and its potential in Pakistan
Blue economy refers to the sustainable use and management of ocean and coastal resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and the preservation of the marine environment. It encompasses a wide range of economic sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, shipping, renewable energy, and biotechnology, among others.
The concept of blue economy recognizes that the ocean and its resources can contribute significantly to the global economy and the well-being of coastal communities. However, it also acknowledges the need to ensure that these resources are used in a sustainable and responsible manner, considering the fragility of the marine ecosystem and its crucial role in supporting life on Earth.
The blue economy concept has gained prominence in recent years, with several countries and international organizations promoting policies and initiatives to harness the economic potential of the ocean while preserving its health and biodiversity.
Pakistan has a long coastline of approximately 1,046 kilometers, which presents immense potential for blue economy development. The country’s coastal areas are rich in marine resources, including fish, shrimp, crab, lobsters, and other seafood, which can be exploited sustainably for economic growth and job creation.
Pakistan’s fisheries sector is one of the main contributors to the country’s economy, providing livelihoods to millions of people. The sector can be further developed by introducing modern fishing techniques, improving the quality of seafood, and promoting export-oriented fisheries.
Pakistan also has significant potential for the development of mariculture, which involves the cultivation of marine organisms such as seaweed, shellfish, and finfish. The country’s warm waters and favorable climatic conditions provide ideal conditions for mariculture, which can help diversify the economy and reduce pressure on wild fish stocks.
In addition, Pakistan’s coastal areas are rich in mineral resources, including oil and gas, which can be extracted sustainably to contribute to the country’s energy needs and economic growth.
Furthermore, Pakistan has significant potential for developing the tourism sector along its coastal areas, including beaches, historical sites, and marine parks. This can attract both domestic and international tourists, creating job opportunities and generating revenue.
Moreover, Pakistan has great potential for developing its blue economy, and it is important to ensure that this is done in a sustainable and responsible manner to protect the marine environment and ensure long-term benefits for the country’s economy and people.
There are several ways to ensure the sustainable development of the blue economy in Pakistan. Here are some key steps that can be taken:
Implement and enforce regulations: Pakistan should adopt and enforce strong laws and regulations to ensure sustainable use of marine resources, protect the marine environment, and promote responsible business practices. This can include measures such as catch limits, gear restrictions, and protected areas.
Strengthen research and monitoring: Adequate research and monitoring of marine ecosystems are crucial for effective management and conservation. Pakistan should invest in scientific research and monitoring programs to better understand the marine ecosystem and the impacts of human activities.
Promote sustainable fisheries practices: Pakistan should promote sustainable fishing practices, such as using selective fishing gear, reducing bycatch, and implementing closed seasons and areas, to ensure that fish stocks are not depleted and the ecosystem is protected.
Encourage responsible tourism: The tourism sector can have both positive and negative impacts on the marine environment. Pakistan should promote responsible tourism practices, such as limiting tourist activities in sensitive areas, reducing waste and pollution, and educating tourists about sustainable behavior.
Support innovation and technology: Innovative technologies can help reduce the impact of human activities on the marine environment and improve resource management. Pakistan should invest in research and development of new technologies, such as offshore aquaculture, renewable energy, and waste management systems.
Foster public-private partnerships: Public-private partnerships can play a critical role in developing sustainable blue economy practices. Pakistan should encourage collaboration between government, businesses, and civil society to promote sustainable practices and ensure that economic development is balanced with environmental protection.
Overall, ensuring the sustainable development of the blue economy in Pakistan will require a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including government, businesses, civil society, and local communities. By taking a holistic approach and prioritizing sustainable practices, Pakistan can unlock the economic potential of its marine resources while safeguarding the health and well-being of its people and the environment.
China-Russia summit: What economic goals ahead?
The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to feature a wide range of issues for discussion, with bilateral economic cooperation being one of the most critical areas that will need an in-depth analysis and an ambitious action plan.
As stated by the Chinese president in his article titled “Forging Ahead to Open a New Chapter of China-Russia Friendship, Cooperation and Common Development,” published in the Russian media on March 20, both countries “need to raise both the quality and quantity of investment and economic cooperation and step up policy coordination to create favorable conditions for the high-quality development of our investment cooperation.”
The track-record of intensifying the China-Russia economic cooperation in 2022 will need to be assessed with due consideration with regard to both the achievements as well as those areas where there remains substantial scope for boosting bilateral ties.
On the bright side, there is the record-high trade turnover between China and Russia posted in 2022. A figure of around $190 billion in trade turnover comes close to the newly established $200 billion target for bilateral trade set for 2024. With annual growth in trade turnover reaching 34.3 percent in 2022, the momentum appears strong for the $200 billion target to be reached well ahead of schedule.
China’s optimization of COVID-19 measures and the liberalization of transportation regulations (including with respect to direct flights between China and Russia) will likely boost bilateral trade further, including in the services sector (most notably in the tourist segment).
On the other hand, figures on investment from China to Russia, most importantly long-term foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, show a significantly more moderate growth pace compared to the above-mentioned trade growth figures. The FDI data published by the Eurasian Development Bank suggests that the stock of FDI from China to Russia grew by 27.4 percent from 2016 to mid-2022, implying an annual average growth rate of a little over 3 percent. According to the forecasts coming from the Eurasian Development Bank, growth in FDI inflows from China into Russia is likely to continue, albeit still at a moderate pace.
Against the backdrop of these trends in trade and investment, the use of national currencies will very likely be another point of discussion at the China-Russia talks. Last year saw a substantial rise in the use of the rouble and the Chinese yuan in bilateral trade transactions. In the course of 2022, the share of the rouble and the yuan in Russia’s export operations increased from 12 percent and 0.5 percent to 34 percent and 16 percent, respectively; the share of the U.S. dollar and the Euro declined to less than 50 percent by end-2022.
As regards Russia’s imports the share of the yuan increased from 4 percent to 23 percent, while that of the Russian rouble declined from 29 percent to 27 percent, the share of the U.S. dollar and the Euro declined from 65 percent to 46 percent.
In spite of the impressive scale of de-dollarization in bilateral trade, there is still ample scope to further increase the use of national currencies. This should be made possible by greater use of national and regional payment systems – not only on a bilateral basis, but also in the broader framework of BRICS via the introduction of the long-awaited BRICS Pay system.
Another possible venue to de-dollarization that may be discussed at the summit may be the launching of a new BRICS reserve currency – a project that Putin unveiled in mid-2022. The future of this new currency dubbed R5 (all five currencies of BRICS countries start with a letter “R”) to a significant degree will depend of the readiness of both China and Russia to pursue a coordinated approach to launching such an undertaking that may prove to be critical not only for the BRICS proper, but for the broader realm of the developing world.
To forge ahead with greater de-dollarization, it is critical to ensure greater coordination in international economic organizations. This is particularly important for the advancement of the global role of such groupings as BRICS that have taken on a rising prominence on the international arena, particularly after the successful BRICS chairmanship of China in 2022. Both countries play a crucial role in making BRICS a dynamic, open and inclusive platform, with one of the near-term issues being that of BRICS expansion and the possibility of the inclusion of new large emerging markets into the BRICS core.
In the end, the meeting between the leaders of China and Russia will present an opportunity to build on the strong momentum in boosting bilateral economic cooperation. Apart from the rising prominence of Global South, there is the resurgence of economic concerns in the West – against the backdrop of rising fragilities in the financial sector in the U.S. and Europe, boosting bilateral economic ties between China and Russia may be seen as lowering the susceptibility to the rising frequency of crisis waves emanating from developed economies.
Author’s note: First published at CGTN
Is the Western Moral Triumph still possible? Of Jeffrey Sachs and Edges of Globalization
“It feels like I imagine 1912 to feel” stated US Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs during an extraordinary zoom conference on the 8th of March. The discussion about the current geopolitical state with Geneva participants, concepted and hosted by professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic, was held on an emblematic day, the International Women’s Day, celebrating female achievements in social, cultural and political fields. As Professor Sachs reminded, to remember this occasion is of the highly importance to maintain human rights at the core of our engagements in a froth and difficult geopolitical situation.
Jeffrey David Sachs, born November 5, 1954 is a US economist, academic, public policy analyst, and former director of the Columbia’s Earth Institute, where he holds the title of university professor. He is known for his work on sustainable development, economic development, and the fight to end poverty.
Currently, Sachs is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and President of the UN SD Solutions Network. He is an SDG Advocate for UN Sec-General Antonio Guterres on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 global goals adopted at a UN summit meeting in September 2015. Previously, from 2001 to 2018, Sachs served as Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General, and held the same position under the previous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and prior to 2016 a similar advisory position related to the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight internationally sanctioned objectives to reduce extreme poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. In connection with the MDGs, he had first been appointed special adviser to the UN Secretary-General in 2002 during the term of Kofi Annan.
Sachs is co-founder and chief strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger. From 2002 to 2006, he was director of the UN Millennium Projects network on MDGs. He is co-editor of the World Happiness Report (co-authored with Helliwell and Layard). In 2010, he became a commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (developmental effects of broadband in international policy).
For the past three decades, Sachs extensively advised numerous governments in Europe, MENA, and Afro-Asia. He has written number of books and received several awards. He has been criticized for his views on economics, the origin of Covid-19, war in Ukraine and decoupling from China.
During his mesmerizing talk and exchange with the participants, professor Sachs evoked the biased diametrically opposed media information conveyed by the West and Russia, reinforcing the dangerous and froth environment of an escalating and unpredictable war. The honorable guest spoke about the conflict’s real debuts, “33 years ago at the cold war’s sundown under Gorbachev’s leadership and the promise by the US and Germany that NATO would not expand east, as well as the rise of the US as the ultimate superpower”. Giving the admiring audience anecdotes of his career, Jeffrey Sachs explained how the conflict is wrongly portrayed aiming for an Orwellian amnesia, and how things could have been handled strategically differently and with more honesty and empathy, ending in a dissimilar outcome. His principal host, prof. Anis asked him: “Jeff, is the moral triumph of the (political) west still possible?”
He lankly criticized the change of US policy towards China since 2015, labeling the country as an enemy as its economy rose, creating a dangerous environment that leaves no place for diplomacy. Professor shared his worries towards the tensions and the fear of an escalating hot war that could easily lead to a nuclear conflict. To Professor Sachs the aggressive US’ hegemonic policy towards China is senseless and dangerous and weakening diplomacy. “All China wants is to be respected and all America wants is to be told how smart they are”- he stated. He insisted on the fact that we need an open new world where there is no US or Europe leading but a world of acknowledgement, history, justice, appreciation and hope.
Throughout the discussions, the esteemed Professor criticized the lack of communication between Biden and Putin and the huge irresponsibility that he places mostly on the US side. He insisted on the importance of communicating in diplomacy as well as with each other in day to day lives. Further on, distinguished guest engaged audience in a constructive critic of the western positions in contemporary world of slobalisation and attempts of decoupling from the Sino world through the accelerated spiral of violent rhetoric’s and wargames. Finally, he made a reference on the recent hearing at the UN Security Council related to the so-called North Stream issue.
The inspiring yet easy-going talk evolved in a friendly exchange of questions and remarks between Professor Sachs and the participants. Content intensive, inspiring reflective and farsighted, yet amicable and family-like atmosphere with a direct, personal access to the notable guest deeply impressed all. As the event came to an end, with the univocal wish of organizing global teaching, a global seminar to educate people and especially young people on important topics (including human rights and liberties), Professor Anis Bajrektarevic closed the meeting by inviting Professor Sachs to make time on his very busy agenda to visit Geneva soon to continue the discussion, proposition that was kindly welcomed and agreed to.
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