The 2012/02/06 at 06:00
Valérie Demon, in Madrid
A small revolution has been kick-started by the new Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, from the right-wing Popular Party. Barely one month after taking on his new role, he held a meeting, on 24 January 2011, with some thirty heads of major companies accompanied by the Minister for Industry, the Minister for Public Works and the State Secretary for Commerce. The aim: to reflect on and discuss the best ways to increase Spanish presence overseas. The basic idea now floated is to use Spain’s 130 embassies to support and help businesses overseas, as is the case of British or French embassies.
“This is a very good idea, which has long seemed necessary to me,” declares Julián López-Arenas, International Relations Manager at the Upper Council of Chambers of Commerce. Until now, businesses have been looked after by trade offices (around one hundred all over the world), headed by a technician and belonging to the Ministry of Trade. “We don’t yet know how this new intention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be implemented, but I think that these trade offices will need to collaborate with ambassadors, hand over to them a little power, because it is the ambassadors who have the means to reach out to politicians and administrative bodies,” explains Julián López-Arenas.
So ambassadors will need to deal with a radical change in mentality and habits as the idea is to set up lobbies. “Certain ambassadors already work closely in conjunction with trade offices, others don’t want anything to do with them, and the majority remain restricted to their diplomatic role,” sums up the International Relations Manager at the Upper Council of Chambers of Commerce. According to the latter, this initiative would facilitate the involvement of political authorities with company heads in structures similar to joint business councils. “If we manage to attract ambassadors, companies will be more encouraged to access markets,” assures Julián López-Arenas.
Spain’s recent obtaining of the construction project for a high-speed train link to Mecca (6.7 billion euros) – a market snatched away from France – demonstrates how collaboration between private sectors, Chambers of Commerce, administrative bodies and even the King of Spain sets the tone for the new direction being chosen by the government. “We can help businesses, chiefly in the construction sector that is extremely subdued. There are many projects in Latin America for major civilian works,” adds the Manager from the Upper Council of Chambers of Commerce. Julián López-Arenas nevertheless thinks it could have been “worthwhile”’ for Chambers of Commerce to attend the meeting on 24 January. He points out that Spanish CCIs take care of “small businesses, not the big ones that were present with the Minister of Foreign Affairs”.