NEW DELHI: Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos promised on Wednesday a new billion-dollar investment in India, just two days after authorities launched an anti-trust investigation into the e-commerce giant.

A three-day visit by Bezos, whose worth has been estimated at more than $110 billion, sparked protests in New Delhi and other cities by traders who accuse Amazon and its main US-owned rival Flipkart of killing off India’s army of street traders.

Bezos, who has spent heavily to make his company an e-commerce titan in the world’s second most-populous nation, sought to head off critics by promising $1 billion to digitise small and medium-sized Indian businesses.

“We will use our global footprint to export $10bn worth of ‘Make in India’ products across the world by 2025,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to boost national ­production.

Bezos highlighted India’s growing importance, saying “the 21st century will be the Indian century” and that the US-India alliance will be the most important.

Amazon and Flipkart — founded in India but taken over by Walmart in 2018 for $16bn — face increasing scrutiny and resentment despite their popularity among customers.

The Competition Commission of India announced on Monday that it was investigating both companies over accusations they undermine traditional traders by favouring “preferred sellers” on their platforms.

Media reports said Bezos has sought a meeting with Modi, but neither the government nor Amazon would confirm if talks would be held. Amazon has said it will cooperate with the investigation and was “confident” it was operating legally.

The commission, which last year fined Google $21 million for abusing its dominant position, said it will report in 60 days, but its inquiries normally take a lot longer.

“We are not against e-commerce,” said Sumit Agarwal, national secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, which says it represents 70m small businesses.

“We just want the commission and the government to set up a fair and equitable playing field where the Amazons and Flipkarts cannot abuse the system with unfair subsidies and their favoured traders.”

The Hindu nationalist government is to announce a new e-commerce policy by March, and is under pressure to help small businesses because of a slowdown in the economy and high unemployment.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020