The country's most important foreign trade fair opened its 20th edition on Easter Monday with a series of conferences focusing on the forum's annual theme: Africa. On its first day of conferences, it became clear that for the Spanish business sector and for the government and its institutions, Africa is considered a key and strategic objective for foreign trade, as demonstrated by trade relations with the African continent, which already far exceed those that Spain maintains with a more traditional partner such as Latin America.
The opening speeches of the week, held at the Paseo de la Castellana headquarters of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, were given by the Secretary of State for Trade, Xiana Mendez Bértolo; Angel Asensio Laguna, President of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce and Jaime Ussia, President of IMEX, under the coordination of the Director of IMEX-Impulso Exterior, José Terreros Andreu.
It was attended by a large delegation of representatives of institutions and the private sector from the partner countries of this 20th edition. Among them, Victor Francisco Dos Santos Fernandez, Minister of Industry and Tourism of Angola. Delegations from Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Gambia, Mozambique and many other countries also attended the event.
At the opening table, Angel Asensio, President of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that Spanish trade is the country in the European Union that has grown the most in terms of internationalisation. "It has grown by 21% in the last year, compared to the European Union average of 17%. This is a very important figure for the institutions dedicated to internationalisation," said Asensio, explaining that Spain has managed to increase its export base by 7%, according to the latest data handled by IMEX. "Furthermore, we have managed to ensure that exports are not intermittent, but continuous," added the president of the Madrid Chamber of Commerce.
His speech was followed by that of the Secretary of State for Trade, Xiana Méndez Bértolo, who praised the capacity of Spanish foreign trade to recover from the COVID pandemic, as well as its fundamental role for Spanish society and the Spanish economy. The Secretary of State continued her speech in line with the medium-term strategy of the Spanish Government's Agenda 2030, placing special emphasis on the framework of sustainability in which Spanish companies carry out their activity, an indispensable framework that provides "a differentiating element and therefore a comparative advantage", said Méndez Bértolo. "Sustainability also offers access to market niches and new sources of financing".
Africa's situation for business development
Many of the premises set out at the beginning of the day were later taken up by the first conference panel, moderated by the director of Atalayar, Javier Fernández Arribas, with the participation of three women specialising in trade relations and development in Africa. This panel was made up of Ana Vicente Lancho, Deputy Director General for Mediterranean Countries, Africa and the Middle East, within the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism; Marta Blanco Quesada, President of CEOE International and Teresa Langle de Paz, Director General of the Women for Africa Foundation.
They mainly addressed the issue of the perception of business risk in the face of the adventure of setting up in Africa. From the point of view, in which the three speakers agreed, the lack of knowledge of the African continent and the systems of many of its countries on the part of the Spanish business community often slows down investment initiatives in Africa and the penetration of companies, for fear of a lack of political and fiscal instability or a correct regulatory framework for good business development.
Ana de Vicente Lancho pointed out that, as indicated by the Elcano Institute in a November study, it has been shown that many African countries have a more appropriate social and legal climate than some other European countries, and that the perception of risk on the part of companies decreases enormously once they have undertaken some commercial action in Africa.
At the request of the moderator, Teresa Langle, Director of the Women for Africa Foundation, provided some very powerful data on this unknown Africa. "In sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of the workforce is female. They are not included in the formal economy, but they are the majority of workers in certain countries. In some countries, women account for up to 85% of the workforce," Langle said in her speech. According to her Foundation, not only do women make up the bulk of the workforce, but Africa has proportionally the highest number of women on company boards. "Because of the penetration of women in the workforce, the economy is more community-focused. They carry the torch and lead the way," concluded Langle.
Now is Spain's time in Africa
A phrase repeated throughout the day was "Africa is not only the future, it is already the present", very much in relation to the theme of the second round table. Participants in this round table included Irene Lozano, Director of Casa Árabe; Alicia Rico Pérez del Pulgar, Director General for Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; José Segura Clavell, Director of Casa África; Ricardo Santamaría Burgos, Director of Country Risk and Debt Management at CESCE; and Jaime Montalvo, Director of International Affairs at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce.
The table was opened by the Director for Africa of the Foreign Affairs Department, who highlighted the importance of the Free Trade Agreement for Africa, not only because of the commercial interests it would provide in the long term, but also because of its symbolism for having achieved the signature of all the African leaders with a seat in the African Union. An achievement of diplomacy and international relations according to Rico Pérez del Pulgar. Two experts in diplomatic relations from Spanish institutions agreed with her, the directors of the Arab and African Houses, who recalled the depth and diversity of Spain's relations with some of these African countries, especially Morocco.
Jaime Montalvo, director of international affairs at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, for his part, broke down some of the most important data and points that explain the success of Spain's foreign trade. He highlighted the figure of 40,000 exporters who demonstrate their capacity to develop projects abroad, the numerous promotion mechanisms for companies through the Spanish administration as well as the financing resources.
For his part, Ricardo Santamaría Burgos, Director of Country Risk and Debt Management at CESCE, dotted the i's and crossed the t's by recalling that there are threats in terms of foreign trade with Africa, located in some specific areas that are affected by three main problems: The rise of jihadism in certain regions, and the instability it brings. The political instability that is summarised in the 5 coups d'état that Africa has suffered in the last 18 months, and finally the evolution of debt and the inability of some African countries to obtain financing, which makes it very difficult to promote their economy.
The IMEX internationalisation week will continue to develop these themes concentrated around Africa on the 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd during its conferences held in Madrid with the presence of delegations from almost all the African countries and the business sector on both sides of the Mediterranean.