Calcutta, Jan. 22: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today hinted he had no objection in principle to foreign players in retail, taking a position that could be seen as a deviation from his partys stand.
The Bengal chief minister told a business meeting that foreign companies must wait a few years if they wanted to enter the retail sector, implying the door wasnt closed on them entirely.
Bhattacharjees comment came as he advocated the entry of big Indian companies into retail.
I can ask Wal-Mart to wait for a few years, but Indian companies should make an entry, he told the 107th annual general meeting of the Bharat Chamber of Commerce.
The CPM high command, however, is not only against foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, especially relating to farm products, but is also opposed to Indian companies tying up with foreign players in the sector.
For instance, it has publicly expressed reservations about the joint venture between Bharti and Wal-Mart, saying it allowed the foreign company a backdoor entry.
Bharti and Wal-Mart have said the American retail giant will only serve the supply chain — an area Bhattacharjee wants to strengthen with private-sector help — and not at the front end.
In the past, Bhattacharjee had opposed the entry of international giants in farm products retail, saying there was no need for foreigners to sell vegetables in India. His comments today may hold out hope for foreign companies.
Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, had earlier said there was no need to hurry about FDI in retail.
Last September, at a meeting attended by Bhattacharjee in Calcutta, Mittal had said: FDI in retail can wait. Let us see how the Indian companies deliver in the next 7-10 years and then we could take a call…. On the front-end, we will come back to you, sir, on this later, not at this moment.
Bhattacharjees government has allowed German retailer Metro to set up a wholesale shop on an experimental basis. Today, the chief minister strongly favoured Indian companies in retail, saying old-style retailing would not work in the future.
Some political parties are opposing…. I am in dialogue (with them). We understand the problem, he said, alluding to the opposition from allies Forward Bloc and the CPI to the entry of Reliance Retail in Bengal.
He advocated a cautious approach on farm products retail and underlined the need to organise agricultural produce.
We need investment on cold chains. We have to develop a new market mechanism, he said.