PMO asks comm min to examine model text of BIT - Business Guardian
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PMO asks comm min to examine model text of BIT



These agreements are important as India has earlier lost 2 international arbitration cases against British telecom giant Vodafone and Cairn Energy plc of the UK over the retrospective imposition of taxes.

According to sources, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the commerce ministry to review the model text of the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and suggest modifications to further improve the ease of doing business. The exercise assumes significance as only seven nations have accepted the existing model text treaty, and most of the developed nations have expressed their reservations on the text with regard to provisions like the resolution of disputes. These investment treaties help in protecting and promoting investments in each other’s countries. These pacts are important as India has earlier lost 2 international arbitration cases against British telecom giant Vodafone and Cairn Energy plc of the UK over the retrospective levy of taxes.

On Monday, as per the sources, an internal discussion will be held at the Commerce Ministry on the model text of the treaty with experts and lawyers. “There will be a presentation in the meeting. We are having an internal discussion on the issue. The PMO is looking into it and has asked the commerce ministry to provide a third-party perspective on the model text,” they said. Although BIT is the subject matter of the finance ministry, the commerce ministry will try to elicit the views of the third party and suggest ways for consideration to higher authorities.

Investment facilitation is one of the chapters in the free trade agreement being negotiated by the commerce ministry. The treaty is a key sticking point between India and the UK, as both countries are negotiating a free trade agreement and BIT. According to experts, the four-European nation bloc EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) would also demand BIT. On 10 March, India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) signed a free trade agreement. Under the agreement, New Delhi received an investment commitment of 100 billion dollars over 15 years from the grouping. The agreement also allows for lower or zero duties on several products, including Swiss watches, chocolates, and cut and polished diamonds.

Economic think tank GTRI (Global Trade Research Initiative) has stated that as India aims to become the third-largest economy, it needs to align its treaties with global investment practices, address the negative perception caused by the mass treaty cancellations and reflect on its negotiation skills. It has said India has canceled 77 of its over 80 Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) by 2016, as they didn’t align with its interests.

“Now, Ajay Srivastava, GTRI co-founder, has said that it is renegotiating with 37 nations using the restrictive 2016 Model BIT. This may lead to protracted negotiations due to its narrow definition of ‘investment,’ vague terms, omission of principles like ‘fair and equitable treatment,’ and Most-Favored Nation status.” According to Srivastava, the model BIT demands investors seek local solutions for at least five years before arbitration, making new BITs challenging for other countries.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her interim Budget speech on 1 February, has said that India is negotiating bilateral investment treaties with different countries.

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India’s PE-VC market sees mixed results in challenging year



In 2023, Indian private equity and venture capital funding experienced a significant downturn, with deals decreasing by 35 percent from USD 62 billion in 2022 to USD 39 billion in 2023. This decline was primarily attributed to global factors such as weakened investor sentiments, high interest rates, slowdown in consumption, and geopolitical tensions.

However, amidst this challenging environment, a Bain India report highlights several bright spots in the Indian economy. While PEVC investments are expected to remain tempered in 2024, traditional sectors like healthcare, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure, and renewable energy are likely to attract substantial investments. This optimism is driven by positive fundamentals and supportive government policies, including Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes.

The report underscores the potential benefits of global supply chain diversification for Indian manufacturers, particularly in export-oriented sectors such as electronics, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. With competitive positioning and government support, Indian manufacturers stand to gain significantly from this trend. Additionally, the report identifies generative AI as a sector where India can excel globally, garnering increasing attention from Indian funds.

The decline in investments during 2023 was particularly pronounced in the venture capital (VC) segment, with a 60 percent reduction attributed to their exposure to high-growth businesses with less established economic models. However, traditional sectors remained relatively resilient, experiencing a moderate decline of 15 percent. Notably, healthcare investments reached a high of USD 5.5 billion in 2023, nearly three times the levels seen in 2022.

Advanced manufacturing also witnessed increased activity, driven by global supply chain diversification and government incentives. Investments in electric vehicle (EV) original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and packaging sectors saw notable growth. Conversely, investments in software as a service (SaaS) and new-age tech declined sharply by 60 percent, reflecting investor preference for proven economic performance.

Despite the slowdown in deal-making, 2023 marked a significant year for Indian exits, with exit value soaring by 15 percent to USD 29 billion. These sales benefited from the depth of the Indian markets, which outperformed major economies, attracting increased investments from domestic investors.

India’s role in Asia-Pacific PE-VC activity has been on the rise, accounting for 20 percent of all investments in 2023, up from 15 percent in 2018. This trend has attracted capital from both domestic and global funds, leading to diversification across various sectors and asset classes within India.

Looking ahead, India is poised to be the fastest-growing major economy in 2024, resulting in higher capital deployment. A stable economic landscape, government initiatives to reduce fiscal deficit, and efforts to curb inflation contribute to this positive outlook. The “China+1” policy is expected to benefit Indian manufacturers, while India-focused funds actively explore investment opportunities in generative AI.

In a nutshell, while Indian PE-VC funding faced challenges in 2023, the outlook remains optimistic, with traditional sectors and emerging technologies driving investment opportunities. With supportive policies and a growing role in regional investment activity, India is positioned for continued growth and resilience in the coming years.

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Paytm makes Easy Everyday Payments with UPI Lite (Up to Rs 4,000, No PIN)




In a strategic move aimed at enhancing user experience and streamlining everyday payments, One97 Communications Limited, the parent company of the renowned fintech giant Paytm, has unveiled its latest offering: Paytm UPI Lite wallet. With a sharp focus on catering to users who prefer wallets for low-value transactions, Paytm UPI Lite presents itself as an on-device wallet solution, promising swift, secure, and reliable payments without the need for a PIN.

The key highlight of Paytm UPI Lite lies in its agility in processing transactions, with the capability to facilitate instant and fail-proof payments of up to Rs 500 per transaction. This feature particularly appeals to individuals engaged in frequent small-scale transactions, such as purchasing groceries, paying for parking, or covering daily commute expenses. Moreover, Paytm UPI Lite ensures a clutter-free bank statement, consolidating multiple transactions into a single entry, thereby simplifying financial tracking for users seeking a streamlined overview of their expenditures.

To further enhance convenience, Paytm allows users to add funds to their UPI Lite wallet, up to Rs 2,000 twice a day, culminating in a total daily capacity of Rs 4,000. This flexibility empowers users to manage their daily expenses efficiently, eliminating the inconvenience associated with multiple entries in their bank passbooks. Additionally, the absence of a PIN requirement adds to the ease of use, ensuring hassle-free transactions for users.

Activating UPI Lite payments on the Paytm app is a straightforward process. Users can navigate to the ‘UPI Lite Activate’ icon on the homepage, select their preferred bank account, specify the desired amount to be added to the UPI Lite wallet, and validate the MPIN to create their account. Once set up, the UPI Lite wallet facilitates seamless one-tap payments, simplifying the transaction process for users.

Facilitating this initiative, Paytm has collaborated with leading Payment System Providers (PSPs) including Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, State Bank of India (SBI), and YES Bank. This collaboration ensures a robust framework for UPI transactions, reinforcing the reliability and security of Paytm UPI Lite.

A spokesperson for Paytm emphasized the significance of wallets as essential payment tools, enabling users to conveniently manage everyday expenses and execute quick payments on the go. Paytm UPI Lite represents a significant advancement in this regard, offering faster transactions at local stores, street vendors, and for routine purchases, while simultaneously maintaining clarity in bank statements. The spokesperson reiterated Paytm’s commitment to expanding the UPI ecosystem in collaboration with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), aiming to penetrate every corner of the country with this innovative solution.

The introduction of Paytm UPI Lite underscores the company’s unwavering dedication to enhancing user experience and revolutionizing digital payments in India. With its emphasis on speed, security, and convenience, Paytm UPI Lite is poised to become a preferred choice for users seeking a hassle-free and efficient payment solution for their everyday transactions.

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Amazon’s new seller fees criticized as a ‘Kick in the Gut’



amazon Inc. merchants are facing significant economic pressure. Earlier this year, the e-commerce giant implemented fee changes, effectively transferring more operating costs onto the small businesses that constitute the majority of its product sellers. Additionally, merchants are grappling with a trend of consumers opting for cheaper products across various categories in the first four months of the year, as reported by Adobe Inc. This shift towards lower-priced items makes it challenging for merchants to increase prices and maintain profitability online.

Duncan Freer, who sells weighted blankets and sleep masks on Amazon, expects his profit margin to slide to 8% from 20% as a result of the new fees. One, imposed in March, charges a levy on shipments sent to the company’s fulfillment centers. That will drive the cost of shipping two pallets of Freer’s products to Amazon to more than $800, up four-fold from what it cost him in October, he said. Amazon reduced the cost of fulfilling each customer order, but Freer said it only partially offsets the new fees.

“Amazon just keeps grabbing more and more,” said the Chicago businessman, whose sales on the marketplace amount to about $500,000 a year. “It’s like a kick in the gut.”

Amazon said the new fees are intended to reflect its own cost of distributing inventory around the US so more items can be delivered in just one day, which helps boost overall sales for online merchants. Some fees actually went down. In January, Amazon cut commissions for sellers of low-cost apparel, a move interpreted by merchants as an effort to blunt competition from Chinese fast-fashion startup Shein.

“When we announced these new fee changes in December, we estimated that sellers will on average see an increase of $0.15 per unit sold, which is significantly less than the average fee increases announced by other fulfillment service providers,” company spokeswoman Mira Dix said in an emailed statement. “As sellers are adapting to these changes we have seen that the actual impact is even lower, and many more sellers are seeing a decrease in the average fees that they are paying to Amazon.”

Still, many merchants say Amazon is mostly benefiting from the higher fees, an assertion reflected in the company’s earnings. Revenue from seller services, which includes the popular Fulfillment by Amazon logistics operation, increased at a faster rate than fulfillment expenses in each of the past seven quarters. Amazon’s seller services revenue of $34.6 billion for the period ended March 30 was up 36.5% from two years earlier, more than triple the pace of growth of its fulfillment costs, which were $22.3 billion in the period.

In last month’s earnings report, the cloud computing division’s strong performance overshadowed the growing tension between Amazon and its sellers. Amazon Web Services in the first quarter contributed more than 60% of the company’s operating income even though it accounts for less than 20% of revenue. But sales in the core e-commerce business grew at a slower pace than the number of units sold, another indication that consumers are watching their budgets.

Amazon’s marketplace model helps the company keep growing through a slowdown by charging fees for advertising and logistics. Antonio Bindi, a Brazilian businessman who has sold home storage and kitchen products on Amazon for five years, said the fee structure is getting increasingly complex. Of particular concern: a levy introduced in April charged when sellers’ inventory runs low. That’s on top of previous storage fees that increase when slow-selling inventory lingers in Amazon warehouses. It’s too much for his 20-person team to manage, so he’s whittling his catalog of 500 products down to 400 to simplify the operation. Five years ago, he said, “Amazon was a platform that would facilitate your business operations and let you focus on what you’re good at, like creating great products. You could just send your products to Amazon, and they’d take care of everything. Now you need an entire department to deal with the complexity. The costs are prohibitive.”

San Francisco seller Neil Ayton sells golf yardage books, yoga gear, and pickleball equipment. One of his most popular products is a yoga stick practitioners use to stretch. It was 59 inches, the longest it could be to avoid higher fee tier. Earlier this year, he noticed Amazon cut the size limit, and suddenly his yoga sticks were one inch too long. Shipping costs for each product jumped from $10 to $26, and Ayton began losing $3 per sale.

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Sovereign gold bonds shine as safe haven for Akshaya Tritiya, say Experts



On the auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, celebrated with traditional zeal across India, the focus on the price of gold has intensified, particularly in Delhi where gold prices surged to Rs 71,240 per 10 grams of 24k gold on Friday.

This marked a noticeable increase compared to April 22, 2023, when the price stood at Rs 59,845 for the same quantity of gold. Kishore Narne, the Commodity head and executive director at Motilal Oswal group, attributed the significant gains in both gold and silver prices to geopolitical tensions and Central Bank purchases. He noted a 13 percent increase in gold prices and an 11 percent rise in silver prices Year-to-Date (YTD).

Narne highlighted that while there have been occasional price corrections in the gold market, the overall trend has been upward, with gold demonstrating a 10 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) over the past 15 years.

Akshaya Tritiya, also known as Akti or Akha Teej, holds great cultural significance for Hindus and Jains, symbolizing prosperity, wealth, and new beginnings. Traditionally, it is believed that any investment or purchase made on this day will bring prosperity and good fortune, leading to a surge in gold purchases.

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Price hike for home-cooked veg thalis, up 8% compared to last year



The cost of a home-cooked vegetarian thali witnessed an 8 per cent increase in April compared to the same month last year, reaching Rs 27.4 from Rs 25.4, as reported on Wednesday. Conversely, the cost of a non-vegetarian thali experienced a 4 per cent decline to Rs 56.3 from Rs 58.9, attributed to a reduction in broiler prices, according to CRISIL’s ‘Roti Rice Rate’ report.

The vegetarian thali typically comprises roti, onion, tomato, potato, rice, dal, curd, and salad, while the non-vegetarian variant substitutes dal with chicken (broiler). These calculations are based on input prices from North, South, East, and West India.

CRISIL attributed the surge in prices to lower onion arrivals due to a significant drop in rabi acreage and crop damage in West Bengal, affecting potato yields. Furthermore, rice and pulses recorded price hikes of 14 per cent and 20 per cent year-on-year (Y-o-Y), respectively.

Despite these increases, the escalation was mitigated by declines in cumin (jeera), chili, and vegetable oil prices, which decreased by 40 per cent, 31 per cent, and 10 per cent, respectively. This prevented a more pronounced rise in the cost of the vegetarian thali.

Meanwhile, the cost of broiler chicken declined by 12 per cent Y-o-Y, contributing to the affordability of the non-vegetarian thali. Broiler chicken constitutes 50 per cent of the total thali cost.

Sequentially, the price of a vegetarian thali in April remained stagnant due to a 4 per cent reduction in onion prices and a 3 per cent fall in fuel costs. However, prices of tomatoes and potatoes continued to rise. In contrast, the cost of a non-vegetarian thali increased by 3 per cent compared to March due to heightened broiler demand and rising input costs.

Pushan Sharma, Director of Research at CRISIL Market Intelligence and Analytics, suggested that vegetable prices are likely to remain elevated in the near future. He noted a divergence in prices between vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis since November 2023, with the former becoming costlier year-on-year while the latter becomes more affordable. This trend is primarily driven by declining broiler prices juxtaposed with rising vegetable costs.

Looking ahead, Sharma anticipated firm vegetable prices, though a projected decline in wheat and pulses prices could provide some relief.

The report also provided a historical overview of thali costs over the past year, highlighting fluctuations in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian variants. For instance, in April 2023, the vegetarian thali cost Rs 25.4, while the non-vegetarian counterpart was priced at Rs 58.9. These figures fluctuated over subsequent months, with varying impacts on consumers.

Such insights offer valuable perspectives for policymakers, economists, and consumers alike, enabling them to discern trends, anticipate market movements, and make informed decisions. As food prices continue to fluctuate, stakeholders across the supply chain must remain vigilant, adaptive, and responsive to changing dynamics to ensure food affordability and accessibility for all segments of society.

All in all, the CRISIL report sheds light on the intricate dynamics influencing thali prices, underscoring the interplay between supply, demand, and external factors such as crop yields, weather conditions, and input costs. As India grapples with inflationary pressures, particularly in the food sector, concerted efforts are needed to address structural challenges, enhance agricultural productivity, and foster sustainable food systems to safeguard the well-being and livelihoods of millions.

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India and Ghana to launch mobile payments system within 6 months



In a landmark move aimed at fostering closer economic ties, India and Ghana have agreed to expedite the process of linking their respective payment systems. The agreement, reached during a Joint Trade Committee (JTC) meeting held in Accra from May 2-3, signifies a significant step forward in facilitating seamless financial transactions between the two nations.

The primary focus of the discussions centered around integrating India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) with Ghana’s Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems (GHIPSS) within a timeframe of six months. Once implemented, this linkage will enable users in both countries to conduct instant fund transfers, thereby enhancing convenience and efficiency in cross-border transactions.

India’s push for UPI integration extends beyond Ghana, with similar arrangements already in place with countries such as France, UAE, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius. This strategic expansion underscores India’s commitment to leveraging its advanced payment infrastructure to facilitate international trade and financial interactions.

In addition to the UPI-GHIPSS linkage, both nations explored avenues for further collaboration in digital transformation solutions. Discussions also encompassed the prospect of establishing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on various fronts, including the Local Currency Settlement System (LCCS). LCCS facilitates cross-border transactions in local currencies, thereby reducing reliance on third-party currencies such as the US dollar and fostering greater financial autonomy.

Furthermore, the deliberations underscored the potential synergies arising from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, highlighting opportunities for enhanced bilateral trade and investment between India and Ghana.

The identified sectors for collaboration encompass a diverse range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, information and communication technology (ICT), agriculture, food processing, renewable energy, power, digital economy, and digital infrastructure. This broad spectrum reflects the multifaceted nature of the bilateral relationship and the shared commitment to exploring new avenues for mutual growth and development.

India’s engagement with Ghana is part of its broader strategy to strengthen economic ties with African nations. Trade between India and Ghana reached $2.87 billion in the fiscal year 2022-23, underscoring the significance of the bilateral partnership.

Moreover, India’s proactive approach towards local currency settlement systems has garnered traction, with recent advancements including the fast-tracking of LCCS with Nigeria. This initiative aims to facilitate trade in domestic currencies and streamline capital and current account transactions between the two countries.

India’s efforts to promote direct currency trade extend beyond Africa, with initiatives underway in neighboring countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. Additionally, collaborations with nations like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka signal growing interest in exploring similar arrangements.

The adoption of local currency settlement mechanisms aligns with India’s broader objectives of enhancing financial autonomy and reducing dependency on traditional reserve currencies. Recent developments, including the initiation of Rupee-Dirham direct trade between India and the UAE, underscore India’s commitment to expanding the reach of its currency in global trade.

In conclusion, the agreement to link UPI with GHIPSS represents a significant milestone in India-Ghana economic relations, promising to facilitate seamless financial transactions and foster greater collaboration across various sectors. As both nations embark on this transformative journey, the prospects for deeper integration and mutual prosperity are bound to flourish, heralding a new era of economic cooperation and synergy between India and Ghana.

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