Taiwanese executives are beginning to realize India’s potential and are exploring new opportunities for investment in the country.
India holds enormous potential for Taiwanese companies, but only in recent years are Taiwanese executives beginning to appreciate it. With a population of 1.4 billion, India is poised to overtake China this year as the world’s most populous country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP growth rate this year is projected to be 5.9%. Last year it replaced the UK as the world’s fifth-largest economy, and U.S. financial services company Morgan Stanley predicts that by 2027 India will be on track to be the world’s third-largest.
The country’s demographic structure makes it an appealing market for Taiwanese companies. Roughly 650 million Indians are below the age of 25, and experts estimate that India won’t hit a population peak until 2065.
“A decade ago, people kept saying India is a potential rising star,” says C.C. Chen, Vice Minister at the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). “Now we are starting to realize this.”
The level of trade and investment between India and Taiwan is relatively small, but in recent years both have been growing rapidly. Chen says bilateral trade last year stood at US$8.5 billion, on growth of 10% from the previous year. In 2022, chemicals accounted for 22.9% of Taiwan’s exports to India, followed by plastics and rubber products, as well as electronic components and parts, both at 17.5%. Machinery parts made up 10.2% of the total exports. However, in early 2023, there was a significant shift as electronic parts and components surpassed chemicals, making up 34.2% of all shipments.
According to the MOEA, approved accumulated investment stood at US$1.2 billion, a tiny figure compared with Taiwan’s investments in China, which stood at US$198.28 billion at the end of 2021.
But these official statistics don’t give the full picture. Experts say that Taiwanese companies like to keep a low profile, partly due to pressure from China, and may choose to invest through third nations, such as Mauritius and Singapore. When this is accounted for, Chen estimates that the real investment figure is US$2.3 billion.
Chen says there are around 150 Taiwanese companies doing business in India, most of them small-and-medium-sized enterprises, but they also include big electronics players such as Foxconn, Wistron, and Pegatron, which manufacture iPhones. Locations range from Andhra Pradesh, where Taiwanese footwear manufacturer Apache is based, to Karnataka, where the capital Bengaluru has been dubbed India’s “Silicon Valley.” Additionally, Taiwan’s CBTC Bank operates in Delhi and Tamil Nadu, where Taiwanese textile company JINTEX and shoemaker Feng Tay are located. Taiwanese shipping companies are also active in India.
Taiwan’s strengths include manufacturing and playing a key role in global supply chains related to “semiconductors, smart machinery components, and petrochemicals,” Chen says. Taiwan’s weakness, the vice minister says, is that companies lack sufficient scope. “The market is only 24 million in population – we don’t have a big land size,” he says. That means India holds great potential for Taiwan. He adds that in the early stages of Taiwanese economic engagement with India, companies involved were labor-intensive ones, making items like footwear and tires.
“Now we are moving into electronics manufacturing,” says Chen. “That’s the latest stage of development. For the time being, our companies are staying in China, but they gradually need to find backup or future manufacturing sites. They need to diversify away from China in order to increase their resilience.”
Kristy Hsu, director of the Taiwan ASEAN Studies Center at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER), says that the U.S.-China trade war that began in 2018 has accelerated a Taiwanese push to manufacture in India. Previously, she says, some electronics companies such as Wistron and Foxconn had an Indian presence but on a much smaller scale, and they were focusing purely on the Indian domestic market.
Apple Inc., Hsu says, is looking to move some China-based production to India and other Southeast Asian nations – and not only due to geopolitical tensions. Supply chains in China have also been disrupted by the country’s harsh Covid-19 policies, putting production reliability under a cloud. Apple wants to hedge against this, Hsu notes. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase have projected that Apple could make one in four iPhones in India by 2025, Reuters reported. “Without the trade war, Apple would have been happy to continue to stay in China,” Hsu notes.
Apple contract manufacturers Wistron, Pegatron, and Foxconn have poured investment into India in recent years. For example, Chen points to a December report that Foxconn is injecting another US$500 million into its iPhone unit in Tamil Nadu.
“The whole Apple supply chain will follow suit,” Chen predicts. In March, Nikkei reported that a delegation led by Foxconn Chairman and CEO Young Liu visited the southern Indian states of Telangana and Karnataka to identify sites for new production facilities.
Manoj Kriplani, marketing division director of Century Development Corporation under Taiwan’s TECO group, says the company’s Indian subsidiary has acquired 28.3 hectares of land in Bengaluru to build what it is calling a “Technology Innovation International Park,” and Kreplani is recruiting Taiwanese companies to set up shop there. He does not rule out foreign companies joining as well.
“Our main focus is the Apple supply chain,” Kriplani says, adding that manufacturers of electric vehicles and other components are also interested. The park will offer consultations for setting up factories and help with navigating India’s complex taxation and legal systems.
In 2004, Kriplani was among the first batch of Indian students to receive scholarships from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study Chinese. He’s now multilingual, speaking a handful of Indian languages, along with Chinese and English. He’s the only foreign national working at Century, and he describes his current role as being a “jack of all trades,” as he helps the company with all kinds of dealings with India: an important role that includes smoothing over cultural differences. Taiwanese companies may struggle with negotiating and marketing to Indian businesses, and building relationships takes time. Additionally, India’s diversity with over 350 languages and cultural practices can be challenging for Taiwanese companies to navigate.
Century was initially offered a 99-year lease for the land for the industrial park, but after multiple rounds of meetings with the local government, it was able to reach a watershed deal allowing the Taiwanese company to own the land outright after 10 years, provided it fulfills certain conditions set by the local government. “After our case, they developed an incentive policy for private developers for the development of industrial parks,” he says. Century plans three or four more industrial parks for the Tamil Nadu state and the Gujarat state, he says.
Kriplani, who is also the deputy secretary of the Taipei-based Taiwan India Business Association, estimates that about 20% of the Taiwanese companies in India made their own business decision to go there, while the rest were encouraged by the Taiwanese government or international companies like Apple. He considers that this trend will change gradually, with more Taiwanese companies coming to their own conclusion about the benefits of investing in India.
“Along with Apple and electronics, the second sector is machine tools moving to India,” says Kriplani. “What India needs from Taiwan is semiconductors, electronics, and machine tools, as well as infrastructure, medicine, and education. This means opportunity for Taiwanese companies.”
Even before the U.S.-China trade war, a seismic economic shift had occurred in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” policy in 2014. The policy promoted manufacturing in India, offering incentives for manufacturing investments. A “Digital India” campaign followed in 2015, and the National Policy on Electronics in 2019 has sought to strengthen the country’s infrastructure by developing greenfield clusters with financial incentives to investors from both the central government and individual states. “It targets not only large-scale manufacturers but also their supply chain participants,” according to a September 2021 report by Singaporean bank DBS.
In mid-2020, the Indian government further adopted the “Atmanirbhar Bharat Policy” to attract global and domestic investors. The policy included what are called Production Linked Schemes, or PLIs, which give incentivize companies for incremental sales from products manufactured in India. Last year, according to national investment promotion and facilitation agency Invest India, a PLI scheme to the tune of US$3.5 billion for the next five years for India’s automobile sector provided financial incentives consisting of compensation of up to 18% of incremental sales to attract investments to boost domestic manufacturing in advanced automotive technology products.
“Now is the right time to go to India,” says K.L Sewani, Managing Director at Taipei-based import-export company Hallimax (Far East) and founder of a successful global electronics business in Taiwan involving low-power computing platforms. “Labor availability, government support, a huge consumer market – you have to tap it.”
Sewani points to a recent deal in which the state of Maharashtra partnered with Taiwan’s electric-scooter manufacturer Gogoro and an Indian automotive system manufacturer Belrise on a US$2.5 billion battery-swapping infrastructure project that aims to promote transport electrification and improve air quality.
Since India excels at semiconductor design but lacks fabs, the Indian government is also keen to attract chip-making investments as nations push for semiconductor investments in their home markets to lower the risk of chip supply shortages from Taiwan. According to DBS, New Delhi has approved US$10 billion in incentives to spur local chip manufacturing, with eligible manufacturing projects receiving support for half the cost of setting up shop.
Hsu reports that India has aggressively courted the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., but TSMC has shown no interest in making the move. Meanwhile, last year Foxconn and India’s metal-mining behemoth Vedanta signed a memorandum of understanding with the state of Gujarat to build one of the first chip-making facilities in India. Production will use 28-nanometer processes that are less sophisticated than TSMC’s top-end technology. Hsu says India is more in need of semiconductors required for ordinary electrical appliances rather than highly advanced chips.
Taiwan has shown interest in signing a free trade pact with India for over a decade, but Hsu notes that Modi has not been responsive. At the same time, she points out that New Delhi has declined to join the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact. The “Make in India” program is more about attracting foreign direct investment in manufacturing rather than promoting trade, she says.
Sana Hashmi, a postdoctoral fellow with the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, notes that a free trade pact would grant Taiwan access to a huge market. But “what would India get out of it?” she asks. India is trying to reduce its trade dependence. When mulling a free trade pact, the Indian government is giving more weight to this factor than a potential political backlash from China, Hashmi argues. In 2018, Taiwan and India updated a bilateral investment agreement. The updated agreement covers both direct and indirect investments made by Taiwanese companies in India through a third location. It also guarantees the safety and rights of Taiwanese investors and the protection of international standards for Taiwanese business investments in India.
In terms of educational interchange, roughly 2,000 Indian students are among the 6,000 to 7,000 Indians living in Taiwan. Hsu notes that Taiwanese companies like to recruit Indian students to help them negotiate cultural and regulatory complexities. In this way, Kriplani, who has a background in ICT, was recruited by Century to help negotiate the industrial park deal.
A flurry of official and semi-official exchanges has also recently been taking place between Taiwan and India. When Chen led a delegation to India last year, the group participated in an industrial cooperation summit involving both private and public sector attendees. The items discussed included electronics manufacturing and smart cities. Taiwan and India also launched a bilateral CEO Roundtable Briefing last year, and an inaugural SME Cooperation Forum was held in December in Taipei, focusing on medical devices.
Interviewees describe India as a highly complex market. Indian regulations, including tax-related rules, can be byzantine and vary from state to state. Culture, business practices, and languages also differ by region. “You should look at India like you do Europe, not just as one country,” Kriplani advises.
Chen notes that the water and electricity supply in some parts of India is unstable, although in industrial parks power can generally be assured. Hashmi, for her part, observes that in India’s more industrialized states, power and water shortages are no longer an issue for business.