The $444-billion American retail chain, Walmart, filed as many as 29 lobbying disclosures with the US Senate for domestic as well as foreign markets between 2008 and 2012-end, and it was during this period that India market was part of its agenda. The disclosure by the largest retailer of the world in the third quarter of 2012 shows “discussions related to FDI in India” were one of the 12 items listed for lobbying under domestic and foreign trade. Others in the list include supply chain and security issues, trans-Pacific partnership negotiations, women’s economic empowerment, investment abroad, conflict minerals and exports, among others.
Walmart is among thousands of American companies making lobbying disclosures to the US Senate. In a year, 20,000 filings are found on the website of the House of Representatives. Walmart spent $25 million towards lobbying since 2008, including for greater access to the India market.
Other American companies present in India and making such lobbying disclosures include Hewlett Packard, IBM, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Pfizer and Starbucks. Many have made disclosures on lobbying for foreign markets. For instance, in the fourth quarter, IBM listed US-India income tax treaty as one of the issues for lobbying, along with US-Spain, US-China and US-Korea treaties. Pepsico, in the same time period, sought support for extension of non-discriminatory treatment to products of Russia. Coca-Cola, too, wants lobbying to promote trade relations with Russia and end trade sanctions against Burma. Coca-Cola has also stressed it was looking for strong US foreign aid budget.
Walmart signed a 50-50 joint venture with Bharti Enterprises in 2007 and set up the first cash-and-carry store in the country in 2009, after which the American chain started lobbying in the US for greater access to the India market. To be specific, it wanted to start its supermarket stores in the country, but FDI in multi-brand retail was not permitted till the Cabinet decision of September.
Since 2007-end, the company has been listing “enhanced market access for investments in China and India” or “India and retail FDI” as part of trade lobbying in its disclosures to the Senate. Since then, it has been consistently lobbying for the India market, except during a few quarters in 2009, the filings with the Senate show. According to the website of the House of Representatives, five to ten lobbyists from the company have been at work to influence the policymakers in America. Other markets that Walmart has been lobbying for include China, Bahrain, Oman, Vietnam.
Bharti Walmart said in a statement today, “all organisations which expend more than $11,500 annually on lobbying activities and employ at least one lobbyist must register and file the quarterly reports.” It added that in the third quarter, lobbyists and companies filed thousands of forms. As per a Washington DC publication, Roll Call, in the first quarter of this year, 143 organizations reported expenses of more than $1 million.
The company argued, “the allegation that a routine US lobbying disclosure form reflects improper conduct on our part in India, is false. This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials.” According to Bharti Walmart, “it shows that our business interest in India was discussed with the US government officials ---along with 50 or more other topics-- during a three month period.”
Mike Duke, Walmart CEO, said in New York, "I still believe that in India things will work out. I am confident that (India) is a country that has such an opportunity to help both the farmers, those that are producing products for consumers all the way through the supply chain to the consumer." He was at a Council on Foreign Relations event.
Meanwhile, the government announced a judicial probe in to the Walmart lobbying issue, that had rocked the Parliament for the past few days. The investigation will be led by a retired judge, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said in Parliament. Yesterday, the the government had said it was “open for an inquiry”, without elaborating on the nature of investigation.
Walmart is separately investigating alleged corruption in the organization related to the India market, among other geographies. Bharti Walmart has suspended five executives for the same, but investigations are still on.