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AIOVA complains about being excluded from govt discussions on e-commerce, trade, retail

The All India Online Vendors Association has written to the Union Government Cabinet Secretary, complaining about being left out of discussions about the e-commerce and trade, and the fact that its appeals to the government are routinely ignored.

The Association said it is excluded from any discussion related to its own industry in the Ministry of Commerce and the Department of Planning, Investment, and Internal Trade (DPIIT) who have been allocated e-commerce, retail, and internal trade as per the rules of allocation of business. It also said its letters to higher authorities have always been forwarded to DPIIT which has sat on its letters and internally decided not to engage with the association.

Requests for meetings with officers and Commerce Ministry have also been rejected or gone unanswered, the Associated said in the letter, urging the Cabinet Secretary’s office to intervene and compel the Commerce Ministry to not hold discussions without AIOVA’s inputs. Decisions about the industry are being taken by a close group of individuals, resulting in an “unnatural gain of market size for certain violating entities due to absence of policy and potentially flawed policy”, the sellers’ body said.

The draft e-commerce policy imposes the condition that operators must ensure equal treatment to all sellers and manager seller relations impartially. This policy specification comes when the department and government has ignored the sellers’ voices for years on violation of these principles, AIOVA claimed. In addition, the department also takes e-commerce platforms claims that they abide by seller equality at face value, referring to the Reuters report about Amazon’s practices in India, without naming the company or the publication.

Such discussions are not new and have been conducted since 2017 in multiple ways and methods. Many draft policies have been abandoned and many committees changed. However, none of the constructive suggestions have been implemented in absence of intent. 

AIOVA said it has asked to be part of these discussions and has sent comments on an earlier policy “in pursuit of a public invitation of comments” by the concerned department.

India’s latest e-commerce policy wants equal treatment of sellers

India’s latest draft e-commerce policy 2021 proposes that e-commerce companies need to ensure that all sellers and vendors registered on their platform are given equal treatment, and they cannot use algorithms that prioritise select players. Noting that there is a tendency for “one or two strong companies” to emerge as e-commerce leaders which gain control over the repository of data, the policy proposes that the government be responsible for preventing monopolies in the sector and that data not be used by players against each other, among other things.

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The draft policy comes at a time when Amazon, one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the country, is under scrutiny for allegedly giving preferential treatment to some sellers, at the expense of others. According to the Reuters report, only 35 sellers accounted for two-thirds of Amazon’s sales in India.

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