STRONGER TOGETHER

Ecuador 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to HE Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain on burgeoning relations between two firm friends.

HE Mariano Rajoy
BIOGRAPHY
Mariano Rajoy was born in 1955 and educated in Law at the University of Santiago de Compostela. He was Minister of Public Administration from 1996 to 1999 and Minister of Education from 1999 until 2000. He then served as Deputy Prime Minister from 2000 to 2003. He acted as leader of the opposition from 2004 until 2011. He was elected Prime Minister of Spain on December 21, 2011.

Upon President Rafael Correa's visit to Spain last April, he stated that relations between Ecuador and Spain were experiencing an “extraordinary moment." How would you assess the relations between both nations, what is your vision for the future of Spanish-Ecuadorean relations and what areas have more potential for growth?

I agree with President Correa and thank him greatly for valuing so positively the state of our bilateral relations. President Correa is the second Latin American president I welcomed in the Moncloa Palace, just four months after starting my mandate, in March 2012. I remember well our first meeting. Beyond ideology, we agreed on the essential, on the need to apply, above all, common sense, taking into account the circumstances of the moment and what is more convenient for citizens. Ever since then we have had a special understanding. We had bilateral meetings on a total of four occasions. President Correa is, with Colombian President Santos, the Latin American President with whom I have met the most. The last visit of President Correa was especially pleasing. He came to receive an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona and used his visit to drive forward the priority of his third term: human talent, science and technology.

President Correa knows that Spain is always ready to provide Ecuador with all the cooperation it may need, as he could see for himself during his visits to the Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona, and Biomedical Research Park in Madrid. Ecuador is enjoying a great period of political stability and economical growth. The country is developing infrastructure projects that will improve competitiveness and productivity, and especially the life quality of its citizens. Projects such as Quito's metro and Cuenca's tram are concrete examples, but there are many more. With the recent accession of Ecuador to the Multiparty Trade Agreement of the European Union with Colombia and Peru, our trade relations and investment flows in both directions will receive a significant boost. Therefore, our relations are meant to be even more intense in all fields, but particularly in the economic and talent mobility.

Ecuadoreans represent the main Latin American community in Spain. How do you assess the integration of Ecuadoreans in Spain?

As I said in my press conference with President Correa the first time I had the pleasure to meet him at the Moncloa Palace, relations between Spain and Ecuador are special because people are our greatest asset. The human factor is always the most enriching and the element we must look after the most in bilateral relations between countries. Ecuador and Spain are setting a good example to the world by their orderly, legal and mutual integration migration flows. In Spain we have the second largest Ecuadorean community abroad, which is here the first Latin American community: more than 400,000 Ecuadoreans live in Spain, and many more if you count dual nationals.

Almost 40% of Ecuadoreans who emigrated from Ecuador to Spain have received Spanish nationality without losing their Ecuadorean nationality. Since 2000, more than 260,000 Ecuadoreans have obtained Spanish citizenship through residence. All Spaniards are truly grateful for the contribution of Ecuadoreans to our development and the fact that they choose Spain as their second home it is a matter of great pride for us. I want to emphasize that Ecuadoreans are integrated into our society with a commendable sense of solidarity, sharing our values and even fighting for freedom in the most difficult missions of our Armed Forces. Estalyn Angelo Mera, who died in combat in Afghanistan, is an example of Ecuadorean heroism, sacrifice, and values. His Majesty the King awarded him the Cross of Military Merit with Red Badge, an extraordinary distinction. I would like these pages to be a homage of them all, paying them, again, all our tributes, recognition, admiration, and respect.

How does Spain evaluate Ecuador's adhesion to the Multiparty Trade Agreement of the EU with Colombia and Peru, and where does Spain stand in the elimination of the Schengen visa for Ecuadorean nationals?

I am extremely pleased with the accession of Ecuador to the Multiparty Trade Agreement of the European Union with Colombia and Peru. We must congratulate President Correa for this decision. He gave an example of pragmatism and political realism. A good leader is one who makes decisions based on what is best for his citizens on the long-term, not letting his ideology limit them. By becoming a middle-income country, in 2015 Ecuador will not be able to benefit from the Generalized System of Preferences of the European Union, losing the benefits of market access with zero (or very low) custom tariffs.

Therefore, Ecuadorean exports would have to start paying custom tariffs if it wasn't for the fact that Ecuador has joined the Multiparty Trade Agreement. Without this privileged access to the EU market, which is the world's largest integrated market, Ecuadorean exports would have lost competitiveness and market shares, for custom duties would have become more expensive. Ecuador would have ended up exporting less, in other words, having less national income and therefore a lower ability to redistribute income. All Ecuadoreans would have lost a lot.

Thanks to the Multi-Party Trade Agreement, Ecuador goes from a limited system of market access, unilateral and temporary (GSP +), to an improved, bilateral (which takes into account the needs of both parties) and long-term (almost definitive) system.

In a transitional period of 10 years, Ecuador's exports will have free access to 96.4% of the European Union market, from which significant Ecuadorean products and sectors such as fishing, bananas, flowers, coffee, cocoa, fruits and nuts will benefit. European exports, for the first time, will also improve access to the Ecuadorean market, examples being cars and alcoholic beverages (wines and spirits). However, it is not just about trade. The agreement means, above everything else, that Ecuador enters the list of the most reliable, open and safe countries to invest in, with clear rules. European investment will pay more attention to Ecuador and not only to its neighbors Colombia and Peru. With more exports and more investment, the national income of Ecuador will increase too and therefore the capacity and ability to redistribute this income and thus social cohesion. Ecuadoreans will also directly benefit from the agreement, for they will be eligible to travel to the EU without a visa. The main argument of my Government in asking the European Commission and Member States to withdraw the Schengen visa for Colombia and Peru was the entry into force of the Multiparty Trade Agreement of the EU. I hope that the agreement will soon be signed and ratified, so that with its entry into force we have a new ambition in our relationships. Ecuador can always count on Spain so that the efforts of Ecuadoreans are recognized and its policies of trade liberalization and legal security are rewarded without discrimination. Those are the sound policies the European Union applies and wants for its partners.

How do you envision Ecuador's economic future?

I am very optimistic. I believe in Ecuador; first of all in the capacity of Ecuadoreans, but also in the country's new political stability and its economic future. The fact that the Ecuadorean government has been pragmatic and has acceded to the Multiparty Trade Agreement of the European Union with Colombia and Peru inspires me with much confidence.

The figures of our trade and investment flows show that Spanish companies are also increasingly turning to Ecuador. Between 2009 and 2012 Spanish exports to Ecuador increased by 222%, from €184 million to €593 million. Spanish investment has also been gradually increasing, from an aggregate of €742 million in 2010 to €998 million in 2012, which means an increase of 34%. The crisis has not stopped Spanish investment in Ecuador. It is worth remembering the success of the Hispano-Ecuadorean Business Meeting held in 2012 and closed by the then Prince of Asturias, King Felipe VI today.

In addition, Ecuador is addressing with ambition the bottlenecks of its economic development, as evidenced by the development of infrastructure and creation of alternative sources of income to oil. Exporting more and with a greater diversification of products and markets, receiving more investment, developing infrastructure, collecting more tax revenue for other complementary policies such as education, science and technology, Ecuador has become an example of change and pragmatism. Ecuador is on the path of progress and as Prime Minister of Spain this gives me great satisfaction. Ecuadoreans deserve this.