In a significant move, the Indian Government has, in a bid to curb opportunistic takeovers of Indian companies as a result of COVID-19, directed that all investments from countries that share land borders with India will require prior regulatory approval. This change covers both direct and indirect investments and comes in the wake of recent acquisitions and exploration of investment opportunities by Chinese investors in India, scrutiny by the Indian securities regulator of Chinese ownership of portfolio investors and the introduction of stricter FDI regimes worldwide.
In mid-March 2020, German media reported that the United States President had offered to take over CureVac, a German vaccine firm which was working on a vaccine for COVID-19, to secure the vaccine only for the United States – these reports were later denied. Indian media has recently reported that the Chinese central bank now holds more than 1% shareholding in HDFC, India’s largest housing finance company. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought healthcare and critical infrastructure into focus from an FDI perspective, but has also weakened companies in other sectors and made them easy targets for creditors and opportunistic buyers.
This note examines the measures taken by certain countries, particularly in Europe, to protect their businesses from being taken over by foreign investors as well as India’s current position on FDI. While India has so far focused on liberalizing the FDI regime, if COVID-19 propels the Indian Government to follow suit, investors can expect introduction of additional restrictions on FDI as well as extended timelines for approval.
With the aim of enhancing “ease of doing business” and “promoting the principle of Maximum Governance and Minimum Government”, the Government of India abolished the Foreign Investment Promotion Board on May 24, 2017. In its place, the relevant administrative ministry/department in consultation with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade are now directly responsible for processing applications for foreign direct investment in India in sectors which require prior approval of the Government.
The move was expected to make the process of obtaining FDI approval faster and more efficient. Almost three years after the move, we consider in this note the current framework for FDI approval and areas for improvement.
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