An Indian court dismissed pleas on Friday by Amazon.com Inc and Walmart’s Flipkart to quash an antitrust investigation into the business practices of the U.S. firms, dealing them a blow in their key growth market. Reuters has the report.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) announced its investigation in January 2020 after a trader group’s complaint accused the firms of promoting some “preferred sellers” and hurting business for smaller sellers.
A court had put the investigation on hold last year after Amazon and Flipkart challenged it saying the CCI had no evidence the e-commerce giants were harming competition.
On Friday, Justice P.S. Dinesh Kumar of the high court in the southern state of Karnataka said he was dismissing the petitions by Amazon and Flipkart, and refused them any further relief.
“It would be unwise to prejudge the issues … at this stage and scuttle the investigation,” Kumar wrote in his 51-page order.
Amazon said it would review the order “carefully and then decide on the next steps”. Flipkart did not immediately respond.
Abir Roy, a lawyer for the Indian trader group Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh, told Reuters the judge’s decision effectively paves the way to restart the investigation, which has been on hold since February 2020.
However, the companies are likely to appeal against the verdict.
When the competition watchdog ordered its investigation, it listed four alleged anti-competitive practices. These were exclusive launches of mobile phones by the e-commerce firms, promoting preferred sellers on their websites, deep discounting practices and prioritising some seller listings over others.
The CCI investigation will be the latest setback for the firms, which have also battled tougher foreign investment rules, and faced accusations for years from brick-and-mortar retailers about circumventing Indian law by creating complex business structures.
In February, a Reuters investigation based on internal Amazon documents showed the U.S. firm for years had helped a small number of sellers prosper on its platform in India, giving them discounted fees and helping one cut special deals with big tech firms.
As the competition watchdog sought to restart the probe, it told the Karnataka court in March the Reuters report corroborated evidence it had received against Amazon.
In response, the company, which has said it “does not give preferential treatment to any seller”, told the court it disagreed with the Reuters report, which should not be considered evidence.
India’s Amazon antitrust probe highlights the growing global spotlight on American big tech. Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all having their full share, as the country seems to be heeding the wake up call to hold them to account.
The US is following the steps of European watchdogs, who recently have had many of the tech companies in their bad books. Democrat US Senators are currently working on an antitrust bill that would force the biggest tech companies to change parts of their business models and curtail large acquisitions.
The drafts, if it becomes law, could require business model overhauls for Apple and Amazon by limiting their ability to operate marketplaces for products and apps while selling their own goods and apps on those same stores.
They would also make it harder for those companies plus Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to complete large mergers, and would force them to make it easier for users to leave their platforms with their data intact.