Sherina Petit and Nosherwan Vakil explore how Indian businesses can manage the challenges and opportunities presented by Britain’s EU exit
After several rounds of negotiations, the Brexit process in the UK has reached an impasse. Under the terms of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Britain is required to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. However, as that date draws nearer, it appears increasingly unlikely that Britain’s major parliamentary parties will agree upon a coherent withdrawal framework. In the coming weeks, they will vote on a measure to extend the timeline for Brexit in order to ensure that Britain does not crash out of the EU with “no deal”.
In the past two years, much ink has been expended on the significant impacts this would have on the British economy. The government’s own “no deal” impact assessment suggests that the economy would be 7-9 % smaller in the long term (over a period of 15 years), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts a likely near-term recession in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Regardless of the form Brexit takes, it is clear that Britain’s place in the global economy will undergo a fundamental re-evaluation. Indian companies with significant operations in the UK should seek to take advantage of the opportunities that this presents.
RIDING OUT THE STORM
About 800 Indian companies operate in the UK, spanning a wide variety of industries from pharmaceuticals to financial services. Particularly in the past few years, these companies have flourished: 87 of them grew at an average rate of 44%, according to India meets Britain tracker 2018, a 2018 report by Grant Thornton and the Confederation of Indian Industry. Companies such as TMT Metal Holdings and Wipro Holdings UK have done particularly well and rank among the fastest-growing Indian companies in the UK, according to the report.
Brexit poses a challenge to their continued growth. If, as predicted, the British economy slows down post-Brexit, Indian companies will have to adapt to survive. Behemoths such as Tata Motors, Tata Steel and Hindalco will have to redesign their strategies for success in the UK market. And much will depend on how the UK rebuilds its trade ties with the EU and other countries.
However, two particular issues give cause for concern. First, Indian companies operating in the UK are exposed to fluctuations in the British currency. In some cases, this exposure is reportedly as high as 13%. Brexit may lead to volatility in exchange rates and a change in the value of the pound. Companies may face additional expenses or uncertainty in procuring raw materials and goods.
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SHERINA PETIT is a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright based in London. She is the head of arbitration across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and heads the India practice of the firm. NOSHERWAN VAKIL is an advocate of the Bombay High Court. Nimoy Kher, a trainee solicitor at Norton Rose Fulbright, provided inputs for the article.