A tough year for gold, India’s metal of choice in the world’s top gold-consuming country, has led to renewed investment interest in silver there, according to a Monday note from UBS AG (VTX:UBSN) analyst Joni Teves.

“The difficulty in accessing the yellow metal, especially in the second half of this year, has likely driven some of the investment demand towards silver,” she wrote.

“Reports have pointed to a strong surge in the country’s silver imports, which ties in with the pick-up in silver flows noted by counterparties with whom we’ve spoken.”

Burdensome gold import and export rules imposed by the Indian government this year, alongside a record 10 percent import tax, are part of the picture.

Globally, too, the price of gold has fallen more than 20 percent and experienced turbulent price movements, ending a decade-long bull trend. India silver imports could hit records this year, reported Reuters.

Imports reached 4,000 metric tons for January to August, already more than double the 1,900 tons imported in the whole of 2012.

Even though silver has also faced an import duty hike to 10 percent, Indian regulators pay it much less attention. That’s because the far more costly gold contributes much more to the country’s troubling trade deficit, as gold imports add to that imbalance more than any item excluding oil.

According to the latest official Indian customs data, the country imported 1,293,109 rupees ($2.1 billion) worth of silver in April to July 2012, and 429,587 rupees in the same period last year. That compares to 10,564,760 rupees of gold imports for the three months ended July 2013.

Teves cautions, however, that silver won’t easily replace gold as the Indian metal of choice in the longterm.

“The demand for these two metals is quite different, and silver is unlikely to displace gold, especially from a consumer demand perspective,” she wrote.

Silver opened at $21 per ounce on Monday morning in New York, while gold opened at $1,352 per ounce.