West Midlands Businesses Set Their Sights On India For International Expansion 

25 July 2023

As negotiations around a UK-India Free Trade Agreement draw closer to completion, new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP’s Business Outlook Tracker* finds that India is a core focus international growth market for the West Midlands mid-market. 

The firm’s Business Outlook Tracker, which surveyed mid-sized businesses in the West Midlands, finds that over one third (34%) of respondents are planning to invest more in growing internationally in the next six months. Many of these businesses have their sights set on India, with 60% of respondents identifying the country as a focus international growth market. 

The West Midlands mid-market is already very familiar with doing business in India, with almost three quarters (74%) of the businesses surveyed already having an established presence there. Of these, all (100%) have plans to expand their presence, with more than three quarters (86%) having plans to do so within the next two years.  

The opportunities that a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would offer are also evident to the region’s business leaders. As negotiations continue, almost three quarters (70%) of respondents agree that an FTA with India is likely to encourage their business to explore more opportunities there. 

As India’s economy continues to grow in strength, the mid-market sees many benefits to establishing a business presence in this market. The top three benefits identified by the research are: 

  • A fast growing and stable economy 
  • Large working age population 
  • Access to large population of highly skilled workers 

However, while establishing a business presence in an international market can offer numerous opportunities, it also presents challenges.

The biggest barriers for the mid-market to building a business presence in India identified by the research are:  

  • Infrastructure 
  • High tariffs and protectionist policies 
  • Safeguarding intellectual property 

James Brown, Practice Leader for Grant Thornton UK LLP in the Central and East region, said: 

“India is now the fifth largest economy in the world and is predicted to become the third largest by 2030. It therefore presents a huge opportunity for growth for businesses in the West Midlands. As the country is only set to continue to grow, it is an excellent time for both those with an existing presence, and those looking to India for the first time, to be exploring potential opportunities in this market. 

“With the uncertain geopolitical situation at the moment, India offers a stable and certain economic environment for investors and businesses, with, not only a fast-growing economy, but also a large working age and consumer population. The announcement last year that Air India was increasing its frequency of flights between Birmingham Airport and Delhi and Amritsar reinforced that there is a real opportunity opening up for West Midlands firms.  

“The anticipated UK-India Free Trade Agreement should also help propel the relationship between the two countries further and provide an excellent platform for further investment. An FTA should reduce tariffs and duties to allow for a more level playing field for overseas businesses and give greater access to a large and fast-growing market. It should also allow for the relaxation of certain regulations and help improve the ease with which businesses in the UK can look to do business with, or within, India. 

“While our research has identified the biggest challenges many businesses face when setting up in India – as there are challenges looking to grow internationally anywhere in the world – there is support available. The Department for Business and Trade provides support to those seeking to trade or invest in India, while firms, such as ours, can also provide tailored support for businesses exploring new markets.”