Dire warning from Germany

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Calcutta
  • Published 26.09.08
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Calcutta, Sept. 25: Future German investments in not only Bengal but the entire eastern region are riding on the fate of the Metro Cash & Carry project, the country said today in an unequivocal expression of concern.

“If Metro Cash & Carry does not get the required licence, this will be the death knell for any future German investment here in the eastern region,” the country’s consul-general in Calcutta, Gunter Wehrmann, told a media conference convened by the wholesaler.

Metro, which has so far invested Rs 140 crore in Bengal and plans to pump in Rs 420 crore more, has been denied licence by a Forward Bloc-run board to deal in farm produce. The four-store project is likely to generate 1,400 direct jobs.

The company has agreed to wait till Sunday, when the Bloc and the CPM are expected to meet, before activating a decision to “evaluate” its options.

So far, the Bloc leadership has refused to budge. “We won’t allow German or any other foreign big players in the agri-business, be it retail or wholesale, since it will snatch away jobs from small and intermediate traders,” party veteran Ashoke Ghosh said this evening.

Wehrmann said German businessmen were watching the developments in Singur and on Metro “very very closely”. “We had a large business delegation last year. But they are not coming (now). They will wait for this — what happens to Singur and Metro Cash & Carry and they will compare the situation here with other states,” he said.

Wehrmann pointed out that Metro was a household name in Germany. “If they (German investors) see that Metro has serious problems setting up business, they will just go elsewhere. Believe me, that is the situation and it’s a very serious one,” he added.

Wehrmann’s dire warning comes at a time Bengal is trying to make Germany a focus country to source foreign direct investment, especially in manufacturing.

Industries minister Nirupam Sen had spent over a week in Germany in April, visiting the facilities of auto icons like BMW and Audi and many component suppliers.

“The pre-condition for opening the store in Bengal is that we get the APMC (agri-product marketing committee) licence. The government understood the concept and said ‘we need you … in Bengal’,” Henry Birr, vice-president (international affairs), Metro Group, said.

What if the licence is not issued? “We will be very disappointed…. (It) will adversely impact our whole business concept, which is now compelling us to relook at our investments in Bengal,” said Martin Dlhouy, the managing director of Metro Cash & Carry India.