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Amazon offers India's small business owners US$1b olive branch

Amazon will also use its "size, scope and scale" to export US$10 billion in locally-made Indian goods, said Mr Bezos.

New Delhi

AMAZON chief executive Jeff Bezos said his company will invest US$1 billion to bring India's small and medium-sized businesses online and that he expects to export US$10 billion in India-made goods by 2025.

His visit to India this week comes amid strident criticism from small business owners who accuse Amazon and Walmart's Flipkart of unfair business practices. The companies deny the allegations.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has also just launched a probe into Amazon and Flipkart.

On Wednesday, Mr Bezos spoke at the Smbhav Summit, an Amazon India gathering for small and medium-sized businesses. The event at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium was billed as "a first-of-its-kind mega summit" to bring together more than 3,000 small businesses.

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Amazon will use its "size, scope and scale" to export US$10 billion worth of locally-made Indian goods, he said, as he praised the country.

"The dynamism, the energy ... the growth. This country has something special and it's a democracy," he said.

His schedule has been kept tightly under wraps, but sources have told Reuters that he has sought a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other government officials.

India's business owners allege Amazon is driving them out of business by offering sharply discounted products and favouring selected big sellers on its platform.

The company has maintained it provides opportunities to more than 550,000 sellers to use its platform and grow their business in India.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing roughly 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, has said it will stage protests across 300 cities during Mr Bezos' visit.

There were two small protests, one in New Delhi and another in Odisha, on Wednesday.

In a letter to Mr Modi last week, the secretary-general of the confederation Praveen Khandelwal alleged that Amazon, much like Walmart-owned Flipkart, was an "economic terrorist" that engaged in predatory pricing, depriving the government of tax revenue and "compelling the closure of thousands of small traders."

Priyadarshini Durairaj, digital marketing officer at Chennai-based Naga Limited, said she is keeping an open mind about the Smbhav Summit.

"Brands like ours," she said of Naga, which makes and sells pasta on Amazon and other online and offline outlets, "need to understand the platforms' plans and offerings for sellers like us."

India's e-commerce market is projected to grow to US$150 billion by 2022, said a 2018 report by software industry group Nasscom and consulting firm PwC India.

Competition for this rapidly expanding sector is intensifying as Asia's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, prepares to go live with JioMart, an online shopping platform challenging Amazon and Walmart directly.

Walmart's Flipkart is also delving deeper into the countryside in its pursuit for more customers.

Amazon, on its part, opened a huge office complex in the southern city of Hyderabad in September, underscoring its commitment to the country. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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