"THERE are 17 to 22 languages used in India. What language should I use?" asked Mr Paul C. Yang, project manager of Vapor Technologies, which makes industrial parts.
"What's the market for sanitary napkins in India?" asked Mr George Liaw, general manager of Merry Living, which sells health products.
Such were the questions Taiwanese businessmen threw at a panel of Singaporean experts on India, at a forum held by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and the Taiwan External Development Council on Wednesday.
Singapore, with its cultural links to India and middle position between North and South Asia, hopes to get third parties to partner Singapore firms to venture into the Indian market together.
The proposition might hold particular attraction for the Taiwanese, which has not been able to take in regional economic integration dues to its sensitive political status.
Indeed, the Singapore speakers stressed how Taiwan firms could piggyback on the preferential trade terms Singapore enjoys with India.
For Singapore was the first to sign a trade pact — the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement — with India in 2005 and also has the distinction of being India's second largest investor, Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore’s trade representative to Taiwan, told the forum.
With English being the lingua franca in India’s big cities, as a Singapore speaker answered with regard to the first question, Singapore was well poised to help link up Taiwan and India.
IE Singapore had started third-market co-operation a few years ago, when Japanese firms and government agencies expressed interest in working with Singapore firms in India.
With ties between Singapore and Taiwan improving, both sides are exploring the idea of co-operation in third markets, starting with India.
"Despite the importance and potential of the Indian market, there are not as many Taiwanese investments in India as we all like to see. Taiwan is an major economic powerhouse and there should be far more Taiwanese investments in India," he told the audience.
Going by the about 140 Taiwan companies which signed up for the event in Taipei, there was plenty of interest. Most were SMEs interested in India but did not know how to take the first step.
"Going into China is already more than what we can handle, but India is also an opportunity after all, with its growing population," said Mr Liaw of Merry Living.
He asked Ms Beatrice Leow, Ascendas' vice-president for international marketing, the only female speaker, about how the market in beauty products in India differed from that in Taiwan, China or Singapore.
"Indian women like to look pretty… Usually when they are young, they are Miss World. But after marrying and giving birth, they put on two to three times the weight as they age," she noted with a laugh.
This explains why whitening and dieting products sell well, she said.
He also asked about the market for sanitary napkins, as his company markets a line of napkins with Chinese medicine plant essence.
Sanitary napkins were not easily found in India some 12 years ago, recalled Ms Leow. Back then, these napkins would take up half her suitcase when she went on work trips to India.
But it's different now, with all kinds of such napkins easily available in India. While previously shopkeepers would wrap these in thick newspaper, they are now very commonly found on the shelves of supermarkets and no fuss is made about them.
Mr Leonard Jayamohan, a vice-president at the YCH Group, a logistics provider, also assured the audience that it has become easier to get a toe into the retail business in India, as the retail environment has rapidly modernised.
"Five years ago, there was no concept of shopping malls or plazas," he said. Since then, malls have boomed in India, with more than 200 shopping malls being built there in the last three years, he added.
Beyond the advice, the Singapore speakers stressed: Singapore is a friend of many nations and it wants to be a friend to Taiwan firms keen to go into India.
Ho Ai Li looks at what Singapore has to offer to Taiwan firms eager for business in India.