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Amazon, SoftBank Held Talks to Acquire Russian E-Retailer Ozon, Shareholder Says

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Global retail giant Amazon and Japan’s SoftBank have made approaches to Russian conglomerate Sistema about a possible acquisition of its online retailer Ozon, Sistema’s majority owner Vladimir Evtushenkov said on Saturday. It’s not immediately clear if talks are still under way or have ended. Sistema has said it was looking for partners to invest in Ozon, in which it holds a more than 40 percent.

“The interest to Ozon among foreign investors is very high,” Evtushenkov told reporters after Sistema’s annual general meeting.

“I can tell you that this is the only one company in Russia at which Amazon was looking from the participation point of view,” he said, adding that SoftBank was also interested in Ozon.

Ozon chief executive Aleksandr Shulgin met with his Amazon counterpart, Jeff Bezos, “five or six months ago,” said Evtushenkov.

A spokesman for Sistema declined to comment further.

Ozon is the subject of interest from Russia’s largest lender Sberbank, with four sources telling Reuters this month that the bank has been in talks to buy a large stake.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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US Unveils Tariffs on France Over Digital Tax but Delays Collection

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 July 2020

The United States on Friday unveiled heavy import duties on France in retaliation for the country’s tax on American tech giants, but will hold off on collecting the fees to allow time for the dispute to be resolved.

The office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer found France’s digital services tax was discriminatory and “unfairly targets US digital technology companies,” and will impose 25 percent punitive duties on $1.3 billion (roughly Rs. 9,770 crores) in French products.

However, it will suspend the tariffs until January 6, 2021 while discussions continue over the disagreement.

France approved the tax last summer on tech firms like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google, which were accused of moving their profits offshore to evade taxes.

But in January, Paris suspended collection of the tax through the end of the year.

French cosmetics and handbags will be subject to the US tariffs, but champagne, camembert and Roquefort were spared, according to the final product list after USTR collected thousands of public comments on the retaliation plans.

The sides have been trying to a negotiate a deal through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that would address the policy dilemma of taxing profits earned in one country by a company based in another with a more favourable tax policy.

But the talks have not made much headway and were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, more countries are considering following France’s example.

Lighthizer said Thursday that the US “won’t tolerate” unfair treatment, although he acknowledged that there is a problem with multinational corporations offshoring profits to avoid paying taxes.

But he said the French tax “didn’t even do a clever job of veiling the fact that they were just trying to get into the pocket of US companies.”

A USTR investigation in January ruled the tax was “unreasonable” and threatened 100 percent duties on a potential list of $2.4 billion in French goods.

Vitor Gaspar, head of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department, told AFP on Friday that there is “a perception that firms that are extremely profitable, that act in the global sphere, are not paying their fair share of taxation,” and called for an international agreement.

“It’s very important to avoid trade wars, it’s very important to avoid tax wars,” Gaspar said in an interview.

A “cooperative approach is in the best interest of everybody,” he said, noting it would be “a signal of the capacity of the global community to work together if a deal on international corporate taxation would be struck.”

Matt Schruers, the president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, welcomed the US move.

“Today’s action sends a strong message that discriminatory taxes aimed at US companies are not a path to modernising the global tax system,” Schruers said in a statement.

“Changes to international tax rules must be negotiated in good faith through a consensus-based approach at the OECD that addresses the changes of the digitalised global economy.”

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Google Select Mississippi Site for First US Operations Centre

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By Associated Press | Updated: 10 July 2020

Google’s first US operations center is coming to northwest Mississippi.

The company announced Thursday it will lease a new 60,000-square-foot (5,574 square-meter) facility in Southaven, Mississippi, near Memphis, Tennessee. Google expects the site, which will provide customer and operations support to customers worldwide, to be operational by summer 2021.

“This Google Operations Center represents a critical investment for the company and we look forward to being an active member of the local community for years to come,” said Troy Dickerson, vice president of Google Operations Center. “The new site will give us the opportunity to hire amazing local talent and we are confident that the Southaven community will be a great home for our Operations Center.”

Employees will provide customer service to Google users by handling product troubleshooting, among other tasks. The company has kicked off recruiting efforts and intends to hire 100 employees by the end of the year.

“Google is a titan in the global economy and we are honored to have their first-class operation in our city,” said Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite.

Google’s other operations centers are located in India and the Philippines.

“This is a true testament to our skilled workforce and the increasing economic strength of our great state,” Gov. Tate Reeves said. “Mississippi and the Southaven community welcome Google with open arms, and we look forward to growing this partnership and creating opportunities for success for years to come.”

Construction on the Southaven site is set to begin in the coming months.

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Nokia Launches Data Centre Networking Tools, Developed With Apple

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 July 2020

Finland’s Nokia launched a set of tools on Thursday for data centre networking, developed in cooperation with Apple, to help companies to manage the growth in traffic as 5G and machine learning technologies roll out.

As the usage of 5G networks expands, vast quantities of data will be generated as more household appliances and other machines are linked up with sensors and artificial intelligence tools, creating the so-called “Internet-of-things”.

Nokia, which competes against China’s Huawei and Sweden’s Ericsson to build 5G networks, has been broadening its portfolio by adding open interfaces to its 5G equipment and launching new networking products.

“We worked very closely with (Apple) over the last two plus years to understand their requirements,” said Steve Vogelsang, Nokia’s chief technology officer for IP and optical business.

Nokia’s new tools aim to assist firms running big data centres, known as hyperscalers, such as Amazon, Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The products will help them scale up resources swiftly.

Apple will deploy Nokia’s new system in its data centre in Viborg, Denmark.

The new products are also geared to other cloud builders, such large enterprises building their own private clouds and telecom operators, said Manish Gulyani, vice president of global enterprise marketing.

Nokia, which has signed up BT and Equinix as customers, is also targeting Oracle, Google, and Amazon.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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