Unlocking potential in India

17 Nov 2016

On the face of it, India should be a source of enormous success for Scotch Whisky producers. Indians have a long established culture of whisky drinking. But as the Prime Minister's plane touched down on the runway earlier this month in Delhi's thick yellow smog caused by a combination of cold temperatures, national Diwali fireworks and local crop burning, I was reminded that exporting to this beautiful, dynamic country can be equally foggy for our members.
Let's face it; India is a complicated market to do business in. The system allows differing rules from national to  local level and across the states. They have inherited a Victorian tradition of paperwork and process which we might have ourselves to blame for, but lingers on today. The 150% (not so) basic customs duty is amongst the highest in the world.

The fact that any Scotch Whisky is sold in India -it is the 10th largest Scotch market by value but only 1% of India's total spirits market - is a testament to various factors. These factors include: the persistence and hard work of our member companies; the friendly understanding of Indian officials and authorities who appreciate the importance of facilitating free trade and removing market access barriers and the enthusiasm of the discerning Indian consumer who knows that Scotch is the best whisky around. Additionally, we appreciate the tremendous support from British government and EU officials who support industry in getting to the root of any difficulties and working to resolve them.

This was in evidence throughout the Prime Minister's recent trip - her first as Prime Minister to a non-European country. Mrs May and all her ministerial colleagues and officials knew about Scotch and were prepared to make the case to support improvements which will help all the producers, whether small or large, have fair and free access to the market. I even heard that reducing the duty was a call from the majority of local producers who recognised the significant commercial benefits they would enjoy in relation to the Scotch Whisky they import. A real win-win for all involved.

While overnight market liberalisation and tariff reductions are unlikely, I was left with a sense of hope that government support for Scotch exports is real and that they will work with the SWA to match our ambitions for growth.
Sarah Dickson, SWA global affairs director