Apple Inc has applied for import and sale of refurbished iPhones in India to corner the booming smartphone business. Subsequently, it plans to set up a facility in the country to renovate used mobiles shipped from China.
“Apple would like to seek the government’s approval to import and sell its certified pre-owned iPhones in India; manufacture and sell its certified pre-owned iPhones in India,” says its application dated December 7.
A similar proposition by Apple last year to import one lakh used iPhones and 2.5 lakh iPads to explore “refurbished electrical and electronic equipment” market was turned down by Environment Ministry’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) on July 2 on grounds that it would add to India’s e-waste.
TRC said that refurbished electrical and electronic equipments (EEEs) had shorter functional life and became obsolete quicker, thereby amplifying the country’s e-waste burden. At best, it reasoned, imports that were of less than three year vintage with at least five years of residual life could be allowed.
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Another reason for turning down Apple and other IT firms from bringing in used EEEs is that India does not allow such imports for trading.
Import of e-waste, regulated under the Hazardous Wastes Rules 2008, is allowed only to actual users for reuse, recycling or reprocessing after consent from the ministry and licence from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
Though there have been attempts by developed countries to push for a liberal trade in refurbished or remanufactured products, India stands opposed for fear that a relaxation could lead to a deluge of low-quality cheap imports amounting to transfer of waste from the developed to the developing nations.
However, Apple has claimed in its application that its CPO iPhones were not “standard refurbished mobile phones” as they are made by its original equipment manufacturers following the same manufacturing and quality assurance processes as for new devices.
They were not “second hand phones” either as they went through the “same standards of quality and testing” as new ones; carried the same one year warranty; and, bore a new serial number and IMEI number.
Claiming that it maintained high standards of e-waste management and recycling, Apple said that by allowing CPOs — which are as durable as new iPhones — price-conscious India could replace the low-end mobiles, including smartphones, and prevent e-waste generation and landfills.
“Indeed, the presence of low-end mobile phones constitutes a risk for the environment given their current levels of quality and durability. Apple designs durable products that last for many years. Designing durable mobile phones helps reduce electronic waste,” it contended.
The San Francisco-based firm did not elaborate its business plan or sales targets in the application but claimed that the “quantities to be imported would vary in hundreds of thousands units on a yearly basis”.
As for manufacturing CPO iPhones, it said that the “initial scope would be in low hundreds of thousands units on a yearly basis”.
“This also depends on other external factors such as the number and availability of defective units coming from China, China’s regulation on exporting defective units and the economics of CPO manufacturing in India. After approval from the government of India, such a project could be established, with all factors falling in place, within a period of 24 months,” it said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook last September during his Silicon Valley tour. He had invited Apple to set up a manufacturing base and Cook had responded positively.