A SENIOR partner at legal giant Dentons in Scotland has underlined the opportunity for Scottish firms to do more business with India, as the UK Government pins its hopes on securing a post-Brexit deal with the rapidly growing economy.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signalled his confidence of securing a free trade deal with India after meeting premier Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi last month. Ministers have said that a free trade agreement (FTA) with India has the potential to significantly boost UK exports to India if it involves a reduction of tariffs, stating that this would make it cheaper and easier to trade with the country.

While talks between the two countries continue, Dentons has taken steps to establish a presence in India. Earlier this year the firm, which moved into Scotland when it acquired Maclay Murray & Spens in 2017, merged with local firm Link Legal to give it “first mover advantage” in the market.

Dentons described Link Legal, now known as Dentons Link Legal, as a “substantial organisation”, with a presence in five of the six biggest cities in India, more than 150 lawyers and over 40 partners.

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Stuart Fitzsimmons, banking and finance partner at Dentons in Glasgow, told The Herald: “When your USP (unique selling point) is about trying to provide as much cover for clients as you can, then with India being such a hot topic, that has been a fantastic move for us. But it is still early stages.”

Mr Fitzsimmons pinpointed Scotch whisky as the country’s biggest hope when it comes to exports to India. India is already an important and growing export market for Scotch, with the drink capturing the imagination of the country’s burgeoning middle class.

The most recent figures from the Scotch Whisky Association, published in August, showed the value of Scotch exports to India actually fell by 28.1% to £94 million in the first half of the year. However, this was against the tough comparison of the first six months of 2022, when whisky sales roared back after Covid restrictions eased.

Earlier this week, Caspar MacRae, chief executive of The Glenmorangie Company, described India as a “very exciting and dynamic” market for Scotch whisky and said the distiller was developing long-term plans for the country that are not dependent on a trade deal.

It is reckoned that the reduction of the existing 150% tariff on Scotch entering India would ramp up exports of Scotland’s national drink to the country significantly.

“We act for a lot of whisky clients as it is,” Mr Fitzsimmons said. “With 150% tariffs on Scotch whisky at the moment, any reduction or removal of those tariffs would really open up that market in a significant way.

“You only need to look at the trade associations and bodies and their comments around the Scotch whisky market to see how enthusiastic they are about the potential for whisky over there. It is right up there in terms of the areas of focus for us, and the potential opportunity for the Scottish economy.”

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Other parts of the Scottish economy that Mr Fitzimmons believes would benefit from an FTA with India include financial services, engineering, manufacturing and green energy “where there is a bit of an expectation that the market in India needs to grow”.

“There has been a real build-up in expertise and capability in that sector in Scotland over the last 20 years, so again [there is] potential to export that knowledge to the Indian market,” he added.

Mr Fitzsimmons anticipates that it is likely to be 2024 before the UK and India are able to strike an FTA but said that may hinge on forthcoming elections taking places in both countries, which bring some “uncertainty”.

But he said Dentons was putting together plans and picking up increasing amounts of work in India regardless in the meantime. “The free trade agreement will happen when it happens, and we will get into exploring that in due course. But there are already a lot of active Scottish companies over there that we are keen to support,” he said.

Dentons has 214 offices in 83 countries.