Overseas companies face policy hurdles in Indian liquor market

Overseas companies face policy hurdles in Indian liquor market
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First Published: Thu, May 15 2008. 11 02 PM IST
Updated: Thu, May 15 2008. 11 02 PM IST
Mumbai: Foreign liquor companies, looking to tap a large and growing market for their products in the country, are being held back by the conflicting policies of the Union and state governments.
In June 2007, the Union government announced that all foreign direct investment (FDI) in the liquor business would happen through the “automatic” route and that liquor manufacturing would no longer need a licence—a practice India had for most manufacturing businesses in the 1980s, which has since been relaxed in most cases.
If this move hasn’t resulted in a rush of FDI in the liquor sector it is because of state laws. The states levy a tax, called excise duty, on all liquor manufactured and their laws make it mandatory for companies to obtain a licence before they start manufacturing liquor. Several foreign firms have discovered that it is easier to forge joint ventures (JVs) or partnerships with local companies than obtain a licence on their own.
The FDI policy was proposed by the Union government’s department of industrial policy and promotion (under the ministry of commerce and industry) and supported by the law ministry.
“The whole exercise of securing a fresh manufacturing licence is not only time consuming, but also cumbersome in some states, as there is no uniform law in the country,” said Vivek Chhabra, director (group business development) at Asia Pacific Breweries Ltd, a Singapore-based beer maker present in India. “In this context, automatic foreign investment clearance doesn’t make sense,” he added.
Currently, foreign liquor firms have no option but to lease capacities from domestic companies, operate through so-called “work contracts”, or acquire companies that already have licences.
“This is proving to be a dampener for foreign investment in the sector, though the government allows 100% FDI in the sector through the automatic route,” said Sandeep Kumar, director (corporate affairs and communications) at SABMiller India, a subsidiary of the world’s second largest beer maker SABMiller Plc. In 2007, the company had announced a Rs2,000 crore plan to enhance production capacity in India over five years.
Some states are trying to follow the Centre’s example.
Maharashtra and Delhi, for instance, did try to follow the Centre’s policy, but haven’t made a final decision, said an analyst at a foreign brokerage who tracks the Indian liquor industry and who did not wish to be identified.
“We haven’t yet moved any changes in the existing policy, which mandates an industrial licence for setting up breweries, wineries, and distilleries,” said A.B. Ghatol, a joint commissioner at the Maharashtra state excise department.
Andhra Pradesh charges the highest fee of Rs2.5 crore for a new manufacturing licence for liquor. Other states such as Maharashtra and Delhi charge Rs10-15 lakh.
“Some states, especially Tamil Nadu, have policies favouring local industries, which makes our efforts to get a new brewery licence almostimpossible,” said Kumar.
Around half a dozen foreign liquor firms, including Diageo Plc. and Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., are directly present in the domestic market. They get their products made through units owned by local firms, or have formed JVs or manufacturing alliances with domestic players.
The Union government, which had earlier delicensed production of industrial alcohol, hoped that a similar move with potable alcohol would boost investment in the sector.
However, “unless the states come forward to make similar moves, it (the policy) would remain on paper”, said anofficial at the commerce ministry, who did not wish to be identified.
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First Published: Thu, May 15 2008. 11 02 PM IST