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India's Legislature Paves Way For Big-Box, Multinationals Like Wal-Mart

Indian leftist activists rally in front of a Best Price store, owned by Wal-Mart and its Indian partner, Bharti, in Hyderabad in November. The rally was organized to protest foreign direct investment in India's retail sector. i i

Indian leftist activists rally in front of a Best Price store, owned by Wal-Mart and its Indian partner, Bharti, in Hyderabad in November. The rally was organized to protest foreign direct investment in India's retail sector. Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images
Indian leftist activists rally in front of a Best Price store, owned by Wal-Mart and its Indian partner, Bharti, in Hyderabad in November. The rally was organized to protest foreign direct investment in India's retail sector.

Indian leftist activists rally in front of a Best Price store, owned by Wal-Mart and its Indian partner, Bharti, in Hyderabad in November. The rally was organized to protest foreign direct investment in India's retail sector.

Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

(Reporting from New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy sends along an update on a story that aired on Morning Edition Wednesday. Essentially, Indians were considering whether to allow big-box stores like Wal-Mart into the country.)

After another two-day contentious debate, the Upper House of Parliament in India today fell in step with the Lower House and voted to open up the country's massive retail sector and allow in big name, big box stores including Walmart.

They can open stores and hold a 51 percent interest in them, an economic reform that proponents say will bring India more in line with the globalized economy and spur badly needed foreign investment at a time when the third largest economy in Asia is slowing down.

Critics forcefully argued in both Chambers that small is beautiful and that the introduction of big name, multinational retailers put at risk the livelihoods of tens of millions of mom and pop stores, street vendors and corner stores known as kiranas which now predominate India's $450 billion retail sector.

But analysts say that with only two percent of Indian food shops falling into what known as the formal, organized economy the Walmarts of the world do not pose any sort of considerable risk to Indian shopowners. What they offer according to some economists is greater choice for India's rising middle class on the lookout for one-stop shop convenience and competitive pricing. Yet the deep suspicions among some constituencies of huge multinational chains is not likely to diminish any time soon.


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