Mar. 9, 2021

Xiana Margarida Méndez Bértolo


Xiana Margarida Méndez Bértolo

Spanish Secretary of State for Trade, and President of ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones

“What we have learnt from the pandemic is the importance of international cooperation.”


Xiana Méndez Bértolo, born July 27, 1977 in Pontevedra, holds a Degree in Law and Business Administration and Management from Comillas Pontifical University. In 2004, she became a Civil Servant of the Spanish Administration as a member of the Corps of Trade Experts and Economists. She began her professional career in 2004 in the Antitrust Service, Subdirectorate General for Mergers, Ministry of Economy and Finance. Between 2013 and 2015 he held different positions in the Directorate General for Economic Policy of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, specializing in the sectors of transport and infrastructure and official credit. Since August 2015 and until 2018 she was the Chief Economic and Commercial Advisor, Spanish Economic and Commercial Office in Ecuador. She is currently Secretary of State for Trade at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and President of Icex, España Exportación e Inversiones.

During Spain Investors Day, you mentioned internationalization will form part of the solution to the current situation. What plans have you put in place in order to continue supporting the internationalization of Spanish companies?

The Spanish Government places internationalization as a priority in its political agenda. In order to this, our plans form part of a 10-year strategy called Strategy for Internationalization of the Spanish Economy 2017-2027, a battery of measures for all organizations and departments to promote internationalization to work in a coordinated and efficient manner, taking advantage of potential synergies and involving the private sector in the execution of the Plan. We insist on this because the best thing for the private sector is having a stable framework and commitment as a country, since it is a strategy undertaken with public-private cooperation. As the international reality is always changing and moving, this strategy must draw up every two years with consultation from different administrations and the private sector. For instance, last period was a scenario marked by Brexit uncertainty and commercial tensions whereas now is marked by COVID-19 pandemic.. As an exception, in 2020 we were forced to launch an additional action plan to support the external sector. This was because during the pandemic we saw a significant decline in international commerce, exports, and investments. Therefore, we had to move everything over to virtual formats and make the best use of our economic and sales offices. In addition, we also strengthened our financial tools and international policies. We are currently preparing our Action Plan for the Internationalization of the Spanish Economy 2021-2022. Now, the international market forms a large part of the growth strategy of a company, even small businesses. And that is extremely important, because it means a culture related to international markets is being consolidated. This strategy involves making the foreign sector a pillar of growth and employment, through the diversification of exports and the establishment of our companies in strategic sectors and destinations, paying attention to the opportunities that may arise from the crisis.

Which factors boosted the Spanish exporter sector growth in mid-2020?

In the current context of global trade, Spanish companies maintain a solid position within global value chains. For this reason, as soon as the foreign markets activity began to reactivate, the export activity of our companies began gradually their recovery. These solid expectations are also reinforced by the evolution of our target markets. In December 2020, Spain's exports increased by 0.9% year-on-year in nominal terms to 22,761.7 million euros, more than in December 2019. The export sector has already fully recovered its pre-pandemic level of activity. These data confirm that our export sector has proven to be resilient and very competitive in a year marked by an unprecedented health crisis that impacted directly on trade flows.

EUR524 million of European funds will be assigned to SME commercial projects. How will these budgets be distributed in terms of internationalization?

We have a significant budget for internationalization through various financial instruments such as CESCE portfolio and COFIDES funds. Apart from that, new programs will be included aimed at reinforcing the policies and tools that we already have with ICEX and, above all, attracting productive foreign investment, especially in innovative sectors. Namely, we want to reinforce foreign companies' participation in our country and professional greenfield projects with capital. This process is what we call opening market funds. These are non-refundable funds for feasibility studies and strategic planning so that Spanish companies and other companies from overseas have the opportunity to participate.

In 2021, there are plans to create a technology fund for domestic trade for which EUR100 million has been allocated. What is the aim of these funds?

These funds, along with others, are part of The Domestic Trade Plan 2021- 2023 that includes new measures and is structured in 5 pillars:

1) "Digitalization of the sector"
2) "Social and environmental sustainability.
3) "Governance and competitiveness "
4) "Capacity building, Training and Information":
5) "Recovering consumer confidence and awareness"

These technology funds provide direct assistance to integrate technology into any small business. In this sense, they are addressed at capitalization, digitalization training and the development of digital solutions.. You can use e-commerce to sell a competitive product or meet a demanding client.. Even for the provision of a good physical retail service, you need to incorporate technology, smart fitting rooms, communication, apps, digital marketing, and so on.

Joe Biden has signed an executive order opting for American supplies and suppliers to boost the industry and support employment. What dangers does the Made in America policy pose to Europe?

What we have learnt from the pandemic is the importance of international cooperation. The fight against a global pandemic can only be achieved through open markets and political cooperation at every level. In that sense, EU vision is focused on building a solid relationships with main commercial partners, including the US. For example, in important areas such as commerce, medical products and accessibility to vaccines to less developed countries, we will need the US as a partner, and we want to lay down the foundations for global cooperation. We have to count on the US because it is our natural ally. In a few weeks, we will try to negotiate and bring an end to the controversies in the WTO.

How would you evaluate the current situation regarding negotiations between the EU and China?

We have been negotiating with China for seven years, and in 2019 it seemed as though the conclusions of this agreement were set. These investments have taken a long time to bring to fruition. Apart from this, last year was also signed a bilateral agreement between EU and China to protect a long list of European Geographical Indications (GIs) into the Chinese market. GIs agreement was a milestone and we closed 2020 with this agreement that is important too: because it consolidated China's commitments as it is taken part into WTO, the agreement opens up new markets in China and a list of sectors that were previously closed off to foreign investment.. Important topics are addressed with regard to China, for example, the forced technology transfer, the role of public companies, and subsidies. What is more, China assumes commitments related to the environment and social and labor rights. The entire international community benefits from this agreement.

Mercosur is another milestone. What are your thoughts on it?

We are present in 10 countries in Latin America and Mercosur is extremely important because we have been negotiating for 20 years. It is a great deal. These are state-of-the-art agreements that bring tariff savings and therefore substantial benefits for European companies. It facilitates improved integration of value chains in key industries. And, if that were not enough, the environmental theme includes for the first time a highly developed and extensive chapter on sustainable development commitments.