The economic ties between India and Scotland date back over 400 years. It is fair to say that Scots have embraced many aspects of Indian culture, but despite the cultural links between the two countries, I believe we could be doing much more as a nation to improve Indo-Scots trade relations.
While a Free Trade Agreement between India and the UK is currently being negotiated, I think as a devolved nation Scotland could be doing more to play its part in improving relations with India, and I’d like to challenge the Scottish Government to engage more keenly with the Indian Government to look at ways of strengthening our ties to the economic and cultural benefit of both parties.
India is currently the eleventh largest inward investor into Scotland, but there are opportunities to increase this even further which I don’t think we are making the most of.
For example, the lack of direct flights between India and Scotland is a real barrier to increased trade between the two nations. A few years ago, there was some talk of Air India or Jet Airways launching a new direct line between India and Scotland, but instead a new route from Manchester was implemented.
This was hugely disappointing as it’s clear that a direct flight schedule between India and Scotland would be beneficial to our economy. As it stands, Indian tourists or businesspeople who come to Scotland tend to fly into London before venturing north of the border. This means their time in Scotland is often cut short, and a large portion of their spending money goes into the London economy, when it could be spent here. These visitors are staying in London hotels and visiting London restaurants, rather than maximising their time spent in Scotland, which is a real missed opportunity for us.
Indian tourists are the second biggest spenders in the world when travelling, so if we could entice greater numbers of Indian visitors to Scotland, and ensure this is the main focus of their trip, we could massively benefit from the boost this would bring to our hospitality and tourism sectors. This is more crucial now than ever before as so many of these businesses continue to feel the after-effects of the pandemic.
India is also one of the largest consumers of whisky in the world. The duty on whisky is currently significant in India – something which the UK Government is hoping to have reduced in the future and I hope is significantly reduced in order to boost sales of the product – but until a decision is taken, I believe there is more we could do to mix whisky and tourism to target this untapped market of Indian visitors.
Whisky isn’t the only opportunity. India is also a huge importer of cheese, so food and drink could be a huge area for growth more generally. Tartan, cashmere, and wool also present fantastic opportunities.
Education is another key area we must examine. Scottish universities have relied on income from students from China for several years, but not many people realise that Indian students are currently the fifth largest group of people from overseas studying in Scotland. We should be shouting more loudly about this and the benefits it brings in a bid to attract more students from India. Nurturing and growing our relationship with Indian students could be another great way of improving relations between the two countries, and I believe if we were more closely aligned in other areas of trade relations, this would be easier.
It is clear to me that the Scottish Government should be doing more to improve Indo-Scots relations, and they should be making a much more concerted effort to forge relations at a state level to allow for greater inward investment, while creating greater opportunities for export. In my view, while relationships between the UK Government and China are strained, there’s currently a huge opportunity to do more business with India.
I’m encouraged that a new Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on India has recently been formed with the goal of promoting Indo-Scots relations. The group will liaise with relevant stakeholders to increase greater collaboration between the nations and I look forward to working with the group to discuss my experience and provide suggestions on how trade could be improved. I think this is a really positive step in the right direction, however, I am aware that any meaningful action could still take a considerable amount of time to come to fruition, so for now I remain cautiously optimistic.
The benefit of improved trade relations cannot be denied, and the positive economic impact would create a circle of benefits such as job creation and greater prosperity. More trade is good for the economy, and we need this now more than ever before.
Our priority must be the post-Covid economic recovery as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, and I believe greater trade relations between India and Scotland could be a fantastic way of boosting the recovery.