Spain can be a gateway to Latin America for Singapore companies, business leaders say

PM Lee Hsien Loong (second from left) meeting Spain'’s Minister of Economy and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos Jurado (extreme left) together with Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran and Senior Minister of State for Law and Senior
PM Lee Hsien Loong (second from left) meeting Spain'’s Minister of Economy and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos Jurado (extreme left) together with Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran and Senior Minister of State for Law and Senior Minister of State and Education Indranee Rajah (right) in Madrid on Feb 5, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Five hundred years after Spanish explorers discovered Latin America while trying to get to South-east Asia's spice islands, modern-day traders on both sides are being encouraged to see Spain as a bridge between the two regions.

Singapore companies can tap on the know-how, expertise and experience of Spanish companies to gain access to the growing Latin America market, Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief executive Ho Meng Kit told a meeting of officials and businessmen from Spain and Singapore yesterday .

Agreeing, senior Spanish official Antonio Fernandez-Martos said: “Singapore is a platform for us to get to know Asia, and Spain can be a springboard for Singapore companies wanting to go to Latin America.’’

“Spain is a privileged route for access to the Mediterranean countries and Africa as well,” added the director-general for trade and investment in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Competitiveness.

They were speaking at the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (CEOE) that a 16-member SBF delegation visited alongside Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Spain this week.

Mr Lee, who was not at the business meeting, is on his first official visit to Spain. He arrived in Madrid from Berlin on Wednesday night.

Earlier today, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Jose Garcia-Margallo called on him.

Both men met for nearly an hour and discussed wide-ranging regional issues, including terrorism, militant group ISIS and reforms in Europe, Mr Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin told journalists.

She also said Mr Lee had a meeting with Minister for Economic Affairs and Competitiveness Luis de Guindos Jurado, who hosted him to lunch with Spanish business leaders.

They had a good discussion on the state of the Eurozone and Spain’s economy, she added.

Spain is Singapore’s 43rd largest trade partner globally; total trade last year was about S$2 billion.

But senior Spanish businessmen like CEOE vice-president Juan Pablo Lazaro feel the figure is way below its potential, and suggest both sides exchange more information on business opportunities.

SBF’s Mr Ho agrees, saying small and medium enterprises (SME) could work together on raising innovation and productivity, among others.

Mr Juan Ignacio Lema of engineering and infrastructure company Tecniberia suggests engineering firms of both countries team up for new projects in third countries.

Mr Jaime Garcia-Legaz, secretary of state for commerce, said urban development is an area for cooperation, citing how Barcelona has become a global example of a city that could meld tradition and modernity.

Spain’s economy is forecast to grow by 2.3 per cent this year and 2.6 per cent in 2016, among the fastest in Europe, he added.

Meanwhile, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran noted that Spain has undertaken important structural reforms, and urged Spanish SMEs to consider investing in Singapore.

He assures the businessmen Singapore will set up a registry for geographical indicators, so that Valencia oranges and Mahon cheese could be considered uniquely Spanish products.

Many Singaporeans are familiar with La Liga, he said of the Spanish football league, adding that he watched Real Madrid play Sevilla on Wednesday. Also, Singaporean businessman Peter Lim had invested in Valencia Football Club, he noted.

Asked about the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project, Mr Iswaran said details are being worked out and added:

“Once we are clear about the process, we will make it public and invite participation, and I am sure Spanish companies will be in a strong position to bid for it.”

Tomorrow, Mr Lee will have an audience with King Felipe VI and call on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, before leaving for home.

zakirh@sph.com.sg