What does Brexit mean for India?
The Brexit referendum on June 23 — whether the United Kingdom (U.K.) chooses to stay on in European Union (EU) or to quit the mega regional agreement — has spawned its fair share of heated and emotional debates. Equities, commodities and currency markets have tossed and turned at either prospect. Indian markets have also been agitated at the likely outcomes. An impassive view, though, shows that Indian trade and business interests might benefit from UK staying in.
While the Indian government has not taken a public position on the issue, since it doesn’t want to be seen interfering in another country’s sovereign exercises, newspaper reports says Indian ministers have conveyed to their UK counterparts against exiting.
This stand may have been informed by Indian business’s unambiguous and public support for UK staying on in EU. A statement issued by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) says unequivocally: “…we firmly believe that leaving the EU, would create considerable uncertainty for Indian businesses engaged with UK and would possibly have an adverse impact on investment and movement of professionals to the UK.” While the other leading industry association, Confederation of Indian Industry, has refrained from issuing any official statements, its representatives have expressed their reservations in different interviews.
There are valid reasons for Indian business concerns.
One, Brexit supporters say the UK will be able to sign new and better trade agreements — free of EU’s restrictive rules — with its strategic partners, such as India and China. They also cite the stalled India-EU trade and investment talks to buttress their argument. However, experience shows negotiating trade and investment pacts takes a long time. For example, the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement took five years to finalise. There are concerns over the interim uncertainty for trade and investment flows.
There is another associated hassle. Assuming that Indian business tides over the interim uncertainties, it will still have to adhere to two different standards and rules when trading in the same geography. This entails additional costs.
Two, most Indian businesses use the U.K. as a springboard for their European operations, given India’s historical and cultural affinity with the country. If those favouring exit win, Indian businesses will have to install a parallel set-up on mainland Europe for conducting their operations. For instance, a portion of the Indian foreign direct investment (FDI) into the UK is to access the European markets. Now, Indian companies will have to separate their investments for the two distinct markets. This means additional costs, regulatory wrangles and legal complications. In addition, the complexity of negotiating new tax laws is likely to prove a nightmare.
Three, there are apprehensions that a Brexit success would inspire other EU members to explore a similar option. This would lead to fragmentation and the Indian government would then have to negotiate separate agreements with each country. This will add to the general confusion and add to regulatory and compliance costs for Indian business.
Finally, Brexit might raise myriad central banking problems. First, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will have to re-calibrate its monetary policies to cope with the currency markets volatility. Additional liquidity measures might have to be implemented to stave off rupee volatility; this might temporarily derail the central’s banks monetary policy objectives for 2016-17.
But more importantly, if Brexit goes through, expect prolonged volatility in the currency markets and a sharp drop in both pound and euro values. This will not only mean a downward revision in valuation of RBI’s currency reserves, it will also require the central bank to re-adjust the composition of its ForEx reserves. Though not substantial, RBI’s volume of euro and sterling pound holdings are also not exactly negligible.
Rajrishi Singhal is Senior Geoeconomics Fellow, Gateway House. He has been a senior business journalist, and Executive Editor, The Economic Times, and served as Head, Policy and Research, at a private sector bank, before shifting to consultancy and policy analysis.