Bernardo M. Villegas
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Spanish Connections for Philippine Business

          The visit of some 30 Spanish business people last March 30-31 reminded both the government and private sectors of the Philippines that Spain, despite its temporary economic problems owing to the recent Great Recession, is still very much a First World country that can be a major partner of the Philippines in its serious efforts to generate more employment and eradicate poverty in the coming ten to twenty years.  Showcasing some of the economic sectors in which Spain has a global competitive advantage, such as construction, infrastructure, alternative energy, engineering services, fashion, telecommunications, and agribusiness, the Spanish visitors had much to offer their Filipino counterparts in terms of advanced technology, machinery and equipment, financing, and human resource development.  As I mentioned in an economic briefing I gave to the Spanish entrepreneurs, we Filipinos have to be reminded time and again that our stereotypes of the Spanish image (siesta, ma┼łana habit, bull fights and never ending fiestas) should give way to that of a highly industrialized and productive nation of 46.7 million people. In fact, as I witnessed personally during a two-year residence in Barcelona (2007 to 2008), Spain was the fastest growing economy in the whole European Union for more than 12 years before the Great Recession set in. The GDP per capita income of Spain of about $23,000 annually clearly establishes its status as a First World country.

          Spanish investors, equipped with some of the most modern technologies in construction, infrastructures, airport management, wind and solar power, etc. are now highly motivated to look for opportunities in the markets of Southeast Asia.  Precisely because their economy is experiencing a temporary slowdown as the Spanish authorities grapple with high debt burdens both in the domestic and international fronts, Spanish companies now would like be more present in the emerging markets of Asia, replicating what they did in Latin America during the last twenty years.  As His Excellency Jorge Domecq, the newly arrived Ambassador of Spain in the Philippines, said in his opening remarks during the Official Opening Ceremony of the Business Forum, the economic epicenter of the world is shifting to Asia because it has the greatest number of emerging markets like China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.  In fact, the good Ambassador contributed something new to my economic vocabulary by speaking of the nest of EAGLES that can be found in the markets of Asia.  EAGLES is acronym for Emerging and Growth-Leading Economies which, using the terminology first coined by an economist of Goldman Sachs, would comprise BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the Next Eleven (N-11) which includes the VIP (Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines), the most populous countries in the ASEAN.  The Eagles can be contrasted with the Tigers (Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan, and South Korea) of the last century.  The Tigers were emerging economies in the 1970s and 1980s but they were not growth-leading because they had very small domestic markets and were bereft of natural resources.

          The Spanish Government, as reported by Ambassador Domecq, continues to be generous to the Philippines, despite difficulties being encountered by its own economy.  It is allotting 86 million euros of official development assistance in the next three years, especially in health, education and climate change.  Spain is the fifth largest donor and the first in the European Union.  There is no question that Spain treasures its historical and cultural ties with the Philippines.  Especially benefited by its largesse are some of the poorest provinces in Mindanao, Bicol and Aurora (thanks to the special efforts of Senator Edgardo Angara, who has traveled far and wide in the Iberian Peninsula).   The private sector of Spain can be a very active participant in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program of the present Administration, especially in toll ways, railways, airports, alternative energy plants and mini-dams.

          In the economic briefing I gave to the Spanish visitors, I summarized the synergy that can exist between Spain and the Philippines in business and economic development.  The Philippines can be the gateway to the ASEAN for Spanish investors.  Being one of the world's leading tourist destinations, Spain can help the Philippines catch up with our ASEAN neighbors in the sector of tourism, medical travel, and retirement.  It can transfer to our cooperatives sector some of the best practices of the most successful cooperatives in Spain like Mondragon.  In the area of agribusiness, Spanish technology in growing high-value crops can be very useful in the Visayas and Mindanao.  In manpower development, they can help more Philippine regions adopt the training methods for young farmers that in the last century Spain was able to develop through their system of Family Farm Schools.  The Philippines, in turn, can be an alternative place for the  Spanish youth to perfect their written and oral English, akin to what the Koreans are already doing in the Philippines.  Finally, the creative industries in the Philippines, e.g. fashion, furniture, art works, can learn much from their counterparts in Spain.  Global players in the fashion field like Zara and Mango can partner with Filipino fashion designers to penetrate more deeply the Asian markets for fashion goods.  In the area of entertainment, there is much to be gained if we can put together Spanish and Filipino talents in music, film, and theater.  We can start by getting Julio Iglesias and his Fil-Spanish son Enrique to include Filipino talents in their international shows.  Finally, as is already being done in some regions of the Philippines, Spanish experts in soccer can help in the long-term development of this sport in the Philippines, in partnership with business people like Manny Pangilinan, Fred Uytengsu and Danny Moran. For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.