Separating Fact from Fiction on Doing Business in India – getting it right first time

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters – the quarterly journal from the Institute of Export & International Trade.

Ajay Sethi is Managing Partner of ASA and Associates LLP. The firm has over 750 professionals across 8 partner-led offices in India serving a range of Indian and international clients. 

ajay sethi

For further insight into the India market, watch a recording of a webinar we ran with Ajay in May 2019.

India is seen as one of the key markets for U.K. business growth in the future. It undoubtedly presents opportunities for many firms wishing to enter the market or to grow their international business. But to be successful you need to do your homework and keep up to date with a fast-changing scene. 

Much is being said and written about the opportunities for British business in India. The relationship between the two countries has rarely been better, and both Governments are promoting trade missions and other initiatives, such as the Indian Government’s Access India Programme (AIP) for which my company is one of the official partners. Certainly, the Indian economic and political environment is encouraging in many respects.

As the British High Commissioner noted in a previous issue of the Institute of Export & International Trade’s journal ‘World Trade Matters’, India is one of the bright spots in the global economy: a large market showing strong growth, and with a Government committed to an ambitious programme of economic reform and modernisation which will raise low levels of productivity and further integrate India into the global economy. Sectors such as technology and healthcare are among those which are leading the way. Other positives include the increasingly close business relationship fostered by the major investments in each other’s economies and long-standing factors such as a shared history (though not always positive!) and the use of the English language.

However, turning an aspiration into a reality is easier said than done. India is not only a huge country and large potential market, it is a very diverse one. In addition to the central Government in Delhi there are 29 State Governments and 85 City Governments. A firm wishing to do business in India is faced with no shortage of choice! Indian society is also changing, though perhaps not as much or as quickly as the hype about consumerism, the emerging middle class and the increased spending power of the poor would suggest.

exporting to india

As with any export market, making the right decisions needs careful research. There is no substitute for doing your homework – or getting someone to do it for you! Having spent more than 26 years supporting many businesses from countries as diverse as UK, US and Japan succeed in India, it is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all ‘model. It depends on the product or service being offered, and the ambition i.e. where does India fit in the overall business plan.

In recent years we have worked with UK clients in fields as diverse as retail (Marks & Spencer), energy (Greenray) and media (BBC, FT). In every case the key questions to be addressed are remarkably similar:

  • How best to research or test the market?
  • To what extent does success rely on the transport or other infrastructure which varies widely across the country?
  • Are the right people available locally to run the business?
  • Which State and local authorities are most receptive to overseas investors and investment? (the efficiency of local bureaucracies in the process of navigating the plethora of rules and regulations varies, as does the level of corruption).
  • And, of course, there is the crucial question of how to choose the right local partner, whether as an adviser on market entry, to promote or distribute your product or service, or to manufacture locally.

The example of JCB is one of the most striking of UK successes in India. Today it’s Indian market is its single biggest country by sales! I am sure that there are many UK companies that can grow their own business by doing business with and in India.


Countries: India
Topics: Export Planning, Getting Started, and Market Research
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