After announcing that, in the second half of 2023, under the Spanish presidency of the EU and when the first summit between the Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is scheduled to take place, the government will give priority to strengthening relations with Latin America, Pedro Sánchez has kicked off his strategy to strengthen Spain's ties with the region with a tour of Colombia, Ecuador and Honduras.
The plan is to consolidate Spain, more than ever, as a bridge between the two regions, to lead the European offensive in the area, to support the increase in Spanish investment there and to attract investment for Spain.
Sánchez's trip last week, of an eminently economic nature, which included business forums in Colombia and Ecuador, comes shortly after the EU made clear its intention to increase its relationship with Latin America and to announce a commercial and diplomatic offensive to halt the advance of China and Russia in a key area for the supply of raw materials, where it has been losing ground in recent years. By 2023, the EU plans an investment plan for 3.4 billion euros, which could rise to 8 billion with credits and projects from the private sector. "The EU is obliged to refocus its framework of relations", Sánchez pointed out during his tour.
In the first three countries chosen, Sánchez has tried not only to promote greater ties, but also to support Spanish companies in these countries, notably in Colombia, in view of the new opportunities that are on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the president was accompanied by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto and CEOE, as well as senior executives from Indra, OHLA, Sacyr, Navantia, Airbus Spain, Idom, Hispasat, Grupo Urbas and Redeia, who were joined by others in each country during the tour. According to the latest data available from ICEX, in 2020 Spain allocated 31% of its foreign investment to Latam, 158,341 million.
In Colombia, Sánchez insisted that Spain will take advantage of its presidency of the Council of the EU to promote the Latin America-Europe relationship, which is key in the current geo-economic context, and will become the "great promoter of Latin American interests in the Union". The Ibero-American summit to be held in Santo Domingo in March 2023 will give precise shape to this summit, which Sánchez would like to hold in Spain. The last such meeting was in 2015.
With regard to Colombia in particular, and following the start of President Gustavo Petro's term in office, Spain's goal is to "further strengthen" its presence in a country that is entering a new phase and which for the first time has a leftist president. For Spain, Colombia has been a "first-rate partner in Latin America" since the 1980s, and the goal is to "further strengthen trade and investment ties". Spain, with more than 800 companies operating in the country, is the second largest investor in Colombia after the US, with an accumulated 25.5 billion dollars and an investment of 1.462 billion in 2021.
Both Sánchez and Petro called for an increase in bilateral investment, and the Colombian Minister of Industry, Germán Umaña, said that a medium-term agenda has already been defined to strengthen ties and stressed that, in terms of investment, "Spain is not the second largest investor in Colombia in terms of quality, but the first".
Maroto emphasised that Spanish firms have a vocation for permanence in Colombia and are "reliable and committed partners". And she asked the companies, which are very present in almost all sectors of the Colombian economy, notably in infrastructure and energy, to strengthen their commitment to the country, especially in tourism, agro-industry and sustainable economy. For Madrid, Petro's priorities, such as energy transition, infrastructure, digitalisation and the agricultural sector represent a great opportunity for Spanish firms.
In Ecuador, and before representatives of 300 companies from both countries, Sánchez, accompanied by President Guillermo Lasso, stressed that there is a shared intention to deepen bilateral economic ties with "enormous room for expansion", praised the legal security created by Ecuador and conveyed to Quito the commitment of Spanish companies to the development of the country and the support of the Government to increase investment. "Spanish companies are the best ambassadors for the country, and they look to Latin America with humility and commitment. They invest where they trust", he stressed.
For his part, the Ecuadorian president indicated that Sánchez's trip marks a turning point for deepening relations, emphasised the legal security that the country provides for investors and invited Spanish companies to increase their presence. And he announced that a new reciprocal bilateral investment treaty will be signed in September. The President recalled the "high relevance" that Spain has in Ecuador: it is its main trading partner in the EU and the fifth largest in the world, as well as the second largest investor. More than one hundred Spanish companies operate in Ecuador and Spain was the ninth largest supplier and seventh largest client in 2021. Both countries agreed to promote a work plan to deepen trade, investment and cooperation.
In Honduras, Sánchez met with the president, Xiomara Castro, and Spanish businessmen and promised to promote a greater investment presence in the country, as well as highlighting the role played by Spanish cooperation, which he described as a priority and promised to maintain. The stock of Spanish investment in Honduras in 2020 was 70.78 million euros, placing Honduras in 71st place in the ranking of countries in terms of Spain's investment position. Iberdrola, Gamesa, Cobra, Mapfre, Elecnor, Inditex, Pescanova, Typsa, Inypsa, Gestamp and Barceló, among others, operate in the country.