On June 7th, 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had introduced two new forms (namely Single Master Form and Entity Master Form) vide a circular (RBI Circular), with the aim of simplifying reporting under the Foreign Exchange and Management Act, 1999 (FEMA). Our earlier blog post contained details of the two forms and our in-depth analysis of the same. On June 27th, 2018, RBI released a User Manual for Entity Master – FIRMS (User Manual) which provides detailed instructions and the process for filing the Entity Master Form. Continue Reading India Simplifies Foreign Investment Reporting Process: Update
In alignment with the Indian Government’s continuing efforts to bolster foreign investment and ease of doing business in India, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has issued two important circulars in June 2018 with the aim of simplifying reporting under the Foreign Exchange and Management Act, 1999 (FEMA). The circulars are as follows:
Currently all foreign investment transactions are reported in a complicated, disintegrated manner across various platforms/modes. The Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2017 (FEMA 20) provide for exhaustive reporting requirements for any foreign investment in India through 12 different forms. Meeting these requirements had become a cumbersome process for foreign investors as well as Indian entities.
Most sectors of the economy have been completely liberalised for foreign direct investment (FDI) and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was abolished in June 2017. Policy watchers in this space were, therefore, taken unawares by a cryptic announcement by the Ministry of Finance on 16 April, 2018, on the “Minimum capital requirements for ‘other financial service’ activities which are unregulated by any financial sector regulator and FDI is allowed under government route”.
Why the Press Release
To put it in perspective, this announcement has its genesis in the RBI’s FEMA Notification No. 375/2016-RB dated September 9, 2016, which was a big ticket change, doing away with the nearly two decades old stipulation of minimum capitalisation in the NBFC sector. The playing field was thus levelled and the financial sector regulations could prevail in an ownership agnostic fashion.
The formal Press Note announcing this change in fact came subsequently (see Press Note 6 of 2016 dated October 25, 2016). FEMA 375 firmly placed all regulated financial services activities in the fold of the respective financial regulators, instead of the latter having to concern themselves with the ownership pattern of the entity.
FEMA 375, however, laid down that activities that are not regulated by any regulator, or where only part of the activity is regulated, or where there is doubt regarding regulatory oversight, approval would need to be obtained from the Government with attendant minimum capitalisation requirements as may be decided by the Government. It is not known , in the public domain, as to how many approvals in the ‘unregulated financial services’ space have actually been accorded post issuance of FEMA 375. This information would have been useful. Be that as it may, what has been set out in the press release of April 16, 2018 is perhaps the way for the future.
There have been some very wide sweeping and deep impact changes in the business and economic environment over the past few years, many of which have also had a strong social impact. While some changes could be considered political, there are many changes that have happened basically because the government of the day chose to bite the bullet. These were long overdue and just couldn’t be kicked any further down the road – to put it succinctly, “the time had come”.
India’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, which has its genesis in the liberalisation era beginning in the early 1990s, had always been subject to periodic incremental relaxation of sectoral caps and other easing measures. However, after years of a gradualist mode, the current decade has seen more dramatic shifts in the hitherto entrenched position in respect to FDI in various sectors. The ultimate measure was of course the abolition in June 2017 of the two and half decades old Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), the inter-ministerial body that granted ‘prior government approval’ in mandated sectors.
The demise of this institution regarded as venerable by some and obstructionist by others, met as expected, with a mixed response. With nearly 95% of the FDI inflows in the country already coming in through the automatic route, the utility and need for such a body was clearly on the wane; practitioners were, however, apprehensive of the absence of the body, which had become the proverbial ‘go to place’ for clarifications and was the last port of call for policy intervention in case of need.
With the formal dissolution of the FIPB at the end of June 2017, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was put in place whereby the sectors / activities / transactions that required government approval were mandated to approach the respective administrative ministries for the same. Simultaneously, the FIPB portal was literally morphed into the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (FIFP), bringing with it bare essential changes to name and ownership, but virtually nothing more.
On January 10, 2018, the Indian Cabinet gave its approval to a number of major amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy of India, to further liberalise and simplify the same. This is to increase the ease of doing business in the country, and continue to attract much needed foreign capital to fuel India’s growth. In this post, we examine the latest amendments and their impact on the crucial sectors involved therein.
Single Brand Retail Trading (SBRT)
The latest amendment has brought sweeping changes in FDI norms for SBRT, thereby enticing significant foreign brands into India’s promising retail space.
The current FDI Policy on SBRT allows 49% FDI under the automatic route, and FDI beyond that and up to 100% through the Government approval route. Earlier, a sourcing norm was also attached to such an investment. This meant that investors were required to source 30% of the value of goods purchased for their Indian businesses through local sources. Several investors have had to spend a significant amount of time developing good local suppliers as partners and their inability to procure locally proved a major stumbling block in setting up their business in India.
The ability to attract large scale Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India has been a key driver for policy making by the Government. Prime Minister Modi seems to be going along the right track, with India receiving FDI inflows worth USD 60.1 billion in 2016-17, which was an all-time high. Hence, the FDI policy of India has always been closely watched and carefully amended over the years.
On August 28th, 2017, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) had issued the updated and revised Foreign Direct Investment Policy, 2017 – 2018 (FDI Policy 2017). The FDI Policy 2017 incorporated various notifications issued by the Government of India over the past year.
Please find below a brief analysis of the key amendments brought by the FDI Policy 2017 to the erstwhile FDI Policy of 2016 and their potential impact on FDI in India:
Do We Really Need the “Approval” Route?
The announcement in the Budget Speech that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) is going to be wound down in 2017-18, has led to speculation amongst consultants, lawyers, foreign investors and the media as to what will take its place. After all, the FIPB, an institution that has been around for more than two decades, epitomises, inter alia, the “government approval” route for foreign investment in sensitive sectors and has been the bedrock of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy. It has been the “go-to” body for approvals, clarifications, waivers of conditions and post facto approvals of transgressions, etc.
After successive liberalisations, the “approval route “ now accounts for only 10% or so of the FDI inflows and, therefore, the real question to ask should not be as to how or which agency(ies) will give the required approval for FDI in the sensitive sectors, but whether approval is required at all. Following from my earlier blog piece on “FIPB – The Sunset Year”, I would like to make the case that in the sectors, currently still under the FIPB route as per the contours of the FDI policy, an FDI approval per se is not required at all.
FDI Approval an Additional Layer
First, it may be observed that in the approval route sectors, the FIPB approval forms only one layer of approval, even though the FIPB process is indeed “single window” (in the sense that it brings all the stakeholders to the table). There is another very vital approval required from the administrative ministry, the regulator or the licensor concerned, which gives the operating license/approval. This includes the allocation of the resource (spectrum/ airwaves/mine etc.) as per the laid down procedures. This is true for all the extant FIPB mandated sectors viz. mining, telecom, defence, media, etc, except single brand and multi-brand trading (this has been discussed later). The policy also prescribes follow-on FIPB approvals for changes in ownership, additional capital etc in these “licensed sectors”. The need for engagement by two separate government layers is clearly debatable.
Foreign Ownership is Not a Concern
Second, also as a result of the periodic liberalisation of the FDI Policy, the sectoral cap in nearly all the approval route sectors has gone up progressively along the usual pattern of 26% to 49% to 51% over the years and now stands at 74% or even 100% in some cases. This clearly implies that in respect of these sectors, where the FDI sectoral cap is at 51% or above, there are no real concerns as regards to foreign ownership and control of entities from a sectoral perspective. In such a situation, therefore, the exact percentage of foreign investment in an entity becomes merely a matter of record, rather than one requiring a formal approval from a high powered government inter-ministerial body.
In the Budget Speech of February 1, 2017, the Finance Minister (FM) announced that the Government has “decided to abolish the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2017-18”. He also announced that the roadmap for the same is expected to be announced in the next few months, and in the meantime, “further liberalisation of FDI policy is under consideration.”
Considering that the “Approval Route” now forms only 10% or so of the FDI inflow, this decision appears logical. It is ironic, however, that this announcement should be hailed as a step to further improve “ease of doing business”, when the FIPB actually stands for “promotion of foreign investment”. Continue Reading FIPB – The Sunset Year
On November 15, 2016, the Supreme Court delivered an important judgment in IDBI Trusteeship Services Limited v. Hubtown Ltd, a case involving investment in India by a foreign investor. While the main thrust of the judgment was on circumstances under which a defendant may be granted leave to defend in a suit for summary judgment, the observations of the court in the context of the structure in consideration provides important indicators as to how courts should look at structured transactions.
In brief, the facts of the case are as follows. FMO, a non-resident foreign entity, made an investment into an Indian company, Vinca Developer Private Limited (Vinca) by way of compulsorily convertible debentures (CCPS) and equity shares. The CCPS were to convert into 99% of the voting shares of Vinca. The proceeds of the investment were further invested by Vinca in its wholly owned subsidiaries, Amazia Developers Private Limited (Amazia) and Rubix Trading Private Limited (Rubix) by way of optionally convertible debentures (OPCDs) bearing a fixed rate of interest. IDBI Trusteeship Services Ltd. (Debenture Trustee) was appointed as a debenture trustee in relation to the OPCDs, acting for the benefit of Vinca. Hubtown Limited (Hubtown) also issued a corporate guarantee in favour of the Debenture Trustee to secure the OPCDs. Continue Reading IDBI Trusteeship v. Hubtown – Supreme Court Gives a Fillip to Structured Investments
Amidst much anticipation, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion released Press Note 3 (PN3) in March of 2016 (now incorporated in the Consolidated FDI Policy dated June 7, 2016) to clarify its stand on the subject of foreign direct investment (FDI) in e-commerce. This post is an attempt to highlight certain issues arising out of PN3 in relation to the use of the term ‘services’, which may not only impact the e-commerce players but may also extend to other businesses which utilize electronic platforms.
Through the release of PN3, the Department clarified its stance on two key aspects: (a) FDI is permitted in the ‘marketplace model of e-commerce’ under the automatic route (i.e., without prior approval); and (b) FDI is prohibited in the ‘inventory based model of e-commerce.