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Singh: India a vast market of untapped potential for U.S. businesses

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India has a population of 1.3 billion and the world’s fifth-largest economy, but the nation remains a largely untapped market for American companies to explore.

Nagesh Singh, consul general for India in Atlanta, said his country still has plenty of opportunities for partnerships with domestic companies.

He said India hopes to increase bilateral trade with the United States from $120 billion to $500 billion in 2025.

“Despite the global slowdown, we can still get close to that,” Singh said.

One market he said remains open is in defense. Outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the U.S. conducts more military exercises with India than with any other nation, Singh said. India is the second-largest importer of arms with an annual expenditure of $15 billion in 2016.

Because of its contentious relations with Pakistan and China, Singh said there is not likely to be a slowdown in the amount of weapons and defense technology his country will purchase.

“This trend is going to keep going on an upward trajectory,” Singh said.

One American company with Upstate ties — Lockheed Martin — has signed a letter of intent with Indian conglomerate Tata Advanced Systems Limited to produce the F-16 Block 70 fighter in India. Lockheed Martin is battling with Saab for a contract to produce the fighters for the Indian Air Force.

Lockheed Martin is planning to move its F-16 production from Fort Worth, Texas, to the Greenville Operations location at the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center. The move is expected to add close to 200 jobs.

A potential deal with India would be part of the “Make in India” initiative, which aims to bolster the country’s manufacturing infrastructure and increase jobs in the manufacturing industry.

“This opportunity represents a unique way to satisfy both the Indian Air Force’s need and the Make in India initiative,” said John Losinger, spokesman for Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Fighter Group.

Lockheed Martin has done co-production deals on the F-16 where the final assembly and check-out would be produced in Fort Worth and other components would be sourced elsewhere. Losinger said the initial aircraft would be built in Greenville, but the details regarding production and a potential agreement with India would have to be ironed out.

Another area of business potential is automotive, where India is making strides to become the third-largest automotive market in the world by 2022. The country has a $300 billion market and produces only 20% of vehicles sold there.

India is also increasing its spending on infrastructure. Singh said the plan is to spend $1 trillion by 2030 to upgrade roads, bridges and utilities.

The country also represents a $600 billion retail market and a $120 billion aerospace market.

“All of this presents a lot of opportunity,” Singh said.

Despite the U.S. not having a free trade agreement with India, Singh said there are ways business can overcome challenges such as protection of intellectual property, which he said is a protection lacking in his country.

“There are issues with doing business in India, but we have to work together with the American government to ease these issues,” he said.

In the Upstate, there is presently one Indian company — Patton’s Inc., a manufacturer of industrial machinery and equipment — with investment in the Upstate. The company, which is a subsidiary of Elgi Equipments Ltd., has a facility in Greenville, according to the Upstate SC Alliance.

Singh said businesses in his country are aiming to invest more in the United States.

“India is becoming a very important part of providing direct investment to this country,” he said, adding a recent survey of Indian businesses showed 90% of them want to invest more in the United States.

“Remain engaged with us because there is no getting away from Indians,” he quipped. “We are coming over in numbers.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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