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Indian smartphone sellers fear iPhone 'snob value' as Apple plans to sell used handsets

Apple's application to sell used iPhones in India is reportedly being fought by executives with leading vendors and manufacturers, who are worried that it could jeopardize local industry by opening the door to used imports as a whole.

A newly-established lobbying organization, the Mobile and Communications Council, recently sent a letter to the Indian government opposing Apple's application, according to Bloomberg. The Council's members include local firms Intex and Micromax, and South Korea's Samsung, which leads in Indian smartphone sales. Apple is a minor player in the country, holding less than a 2 percent marketshare.

Apple's application is currently in the middle of inter-ministerial discussion, said Asha Nangia, a director from the Indian government's Department of Electronics & Information Technology.

Used iPhones may be essential for Apple to make any sort of headway in India, since most phones in the country cost less than $150. Even Apple's latest "budget" device — the iPhone SE — starts at $399 back in the U.S. Until earlier this year, Apple was keeping the iPhone 4S and 5c on sale precisely to reach more Indian shoppers.

Opponents of Apple's plan point out that it could undermine Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" campaign, designed to encourage local manufacturing, since firms could simply flood the market with used imports. One seller said locals fear Apple's "snob value" will lead Indian consumers to choose the iPhone, even priced above $150, over locally-made handsets.

Critics have also invoked environmental concerns, suggesting that batteries and screens from used phones could exacerbate India's serious e-waste issue. Apple has promised to set up facilities to refurbish phones, but that might not matter if other firms are allowed to import used phones and can't or won't set up the same infrastructure.

Even if Apple can't sell used iPhones, it may be able to improve overall sales by establishing its first official outlets in the country. The company still needs approval, but is already said to be hunting for real estate, including a flagship space between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet.