Asked whether he’d advise UK businesses to seek out partnerships in India, Anuj Chande, Head of Grant Thornton’s South Asia Group, has a simple answer: ‘You’d be foolish not to,’ he says.

‘There is a diverse range of emerging and mature sectors from retail and manufacturing through to defence, technology and financial services. The UK and India have a common language, a shared history and a complementary legal system. This isn’t something we can afford to ignore.’

In brief, the vast country of 1.3 billion people is an emerging superpower with a soaring economy. Theresa May knows all these things well. As incoming Prime Minister, May’s first bilateral trip beyond Europe was a meeting in New Delhi with her Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, where they discussed future India-UK trade relations post-Brexit.

But there’s a problem. To some Indian observers, the UK is a fading light on the world stage, whereas India is just getting started. Two decades ago it would have been grateful for the attention; today it is spoilt for choice.

‘There is a lot of interest in India,’ says Chande. ‘It has plenty of suitors. The UK is in the mix, but not necessarily at the front of the queue.’

Open to investment

Over the years, Chande has watched as overseas businesses grasped the opportunity. They were Japanese, American and German, but rarely from the UK, and now UK firms are playing catch-up.

Luckily, the door remains open to foreign investment. Since 2014, Modi’s government has set about reforming the economy by simplifying the tax system, reducing bureaucracy and clamping down on the black market.

‘These measures were desperately needed,’ says Chande. ‘The whole system is already much more efficient and transparent – and that means there is much less room for corruption.’

The reforms, together with India’s gigantic population, put it at the centre of the global economy. Its middle class counts for about 270 million people, which is roughly equal to the combined populations of Germany, France, the UK and Italy. More than 300 million Indians are below the age of 15; if they were to form a country it would be the fourth largest in the world.

India’s headcount is its biggest asset but also its biggest challenge. It needs millions of new jobs every year just to provide work for youngsters leaving education and it needs the assistance of foreign businesses.

India’s economy is highly diversified and each major city – Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad – is a vibrant and varied market in itself. There is demand for infrastructure, machinery, IT and equipment across the board.

Can UK companies benefit? Absolutely. Despite the UK’s colonial past and its culpability for India’s partition 70 years ago, there is still warmth emanating from this part of the world. ‘Indians still have respect for the British. The history is still there, but it is not relevant in relationships formed today,’ says Chande.

A vibrant economy

So what should UK firms do if they want to do business in India? ‘First and foremost,’ says Chande, ‘they should tap the organisations that exist in the UK to facilitate trade and investment between the UK and India.’ (See panel, left). After that, there is no substitute for getting on the plane and getting out there.

Chande says: ‘Unless you take the time to visit, you will not see and experience for yourself the vibrancy of the economy and the country, nor appreciate the sheer power of the youth in the country.’

India currently holds all the aces and it’s up to UK firms to convert goodwill into business relationships. But if you have the right product or service, and the patience, success will follow.

Access to India

Doing business in India requires patience and is driven by relationships. For those just starting out, it’s worth knowing about these two organisations.

  1. The UK India Business Council supports UK businesses with the ‘insights, networks, services and facilities needed to succeed in India’. It recently launched the Access India Programme to support investment by UK SMEs in India.
  2. The Confederation of Indian Industries is the Indian version of the CBI and it is looking to strengthen existing activity in sectors such as technology, infrastructure and skills, along with emerging sectors media and entertainment, sports and tourism.

> Get in touch: for more information about doing business with India, or with Indian firms, contact Anuj Chande.