SPANISH EXPORTERS AND INVESTORS CLUB

Spain 2019 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Antonio Bonet, President of the Spanish Exporters and Investors Club, on the organization's foundation, membership requirements, and the effects of Brexit.

What were your motivations for the founding of the Club and how have these changed throughout the years?

The main driver for the creation of this organization was to promote and defend the interests of Spanish companies doing business abroad. 22 years ago, Spain was beginning to open up to international business, especially by investing abroad. There was no business organization that had as its agenda to defend, promote, and create a more stable and business-friendly environment for companies to export and invest abroad. Since then, that is what we have been doing and it is the only organization that has as its exclusive objective to promote international business for Spanish companies. Two years ago, we made a strategic plan to see how we could evolve as an organization, and one of the outcomes was that our members wanted the Club to stay as it is, a multi-sector organization focused exclusively on international business, and also a Club full of networks, and contacts that were more easily accessible. One and a half years ago we created a work-group exclusively dedicated to Africa. Member companies felt that the presence of Spanish companies in Africa was insufficient, considering the size of our economy. We are close geographically to Africa, so it made sense to create this group to encourage companies and inform about business opportunities in Africa.

Which are the requirements to join the Club?

We have three requirements to be a member, one is that it needs to be a Spanish legally incorporated company; second is that they do international business from Spain; and third is that it must be an honorable company. We have a code of conduct and you have to be a rule-following company and not engaging in irregular and illegal business.

Which services are most popular with your members?

As a Club, we are not focused on providing services; other organizations already provide services such as trainings and trade missions. We do not need to organize those activities because others already do them. The Club does three things. The first one is advocacy, as we try to make proposals to governments, political parties, the press, and society in general about ideas and measures that promote and facilitate international business. Spain does not have agreements to avoid double taxations with several countries that are important for Spanish companies (e.g. Peru or Angola). We actively promote the signing of double taxation avoidance treaties with specific countries that are of interest to the member companies. The second activity is networking. We organize small events with member companies and authorities, be it Spanish or foreign, to facilitate dialogue, information, contacts, and networking. This morning, for example, we had breakfast to talk about future trade agreements between Australia and the EU. In such small events people can talk and exchange views. We also have an agreement with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we organize a business breakfast or lunch event with ambassadors accredited abroad or new ambassadors going out. We are planning an event on Kazakhstan soon as well. The third activity is to give information that we believe is relevant, such as studies or publications that may be of interest to companies.

In 2018, exports ceased to be the engine of growth of Spain, what happened?

We do not know yet. The fact is that in November exports of goods were 0.3% less than in November 2017. In December, exports went down 3.7% in comparison to December 2017. It is a cause for concern. What has happened, we do not know yet. We are currently studying it.

The Club has advocated for the implementation of internal measures that could boost international competitiveness; what type of measures are we talking about?

In taxation there are technical matters. For example, when a Spanish company is doing business abroad, it will have expenses. Spanish tax authorities consider those expenses are only valid if the paper support is compliant with Spanish legislation. But Nigerian or Argentinian legislation might not be exactly the same as Spanish legislation. This means that if I ask for a market study in Brazil, they issue the invoice and I pay the invoice and the characteristics of the invoice are not exactly the same as the characteristics of the invoice that Spanish tax authorities require. It might not be considered an expense. This is one of the things we are working on; we make proposals about diplomacy, our foreign network of trade promotion offices, expert credit insurance, expert finance, visas for foreign workers, plans on climate change, and education. It encompasses many sectors, and we are trying to promote measures and structural reforms to increase the average size of Spanish companies. We think that Spanish companies on average are too small and it is more difficult for small companies to do business internationally rather than a medium-sized company. These are measures that help companies to grow bigger.

Which foreign markets are the companies associated with the Club most interested in? Have you noticed a transformation in this trend over the years?

In Spanish investment abroad, the main focus was clearly Latin America. It has changed, however, and companies have started investing in North America, Europe (the main destination of our Spanish investment) and increasingly they are more interested in Asia and Africa. There are actually two geographically-focused working-groups in the Club. One deals with Asia and another one deals with Africa. We do not have a working-group in Latin America or Europe.

Do you think Brexit could turn into an opportunity for those who are brave enough to venture into emerging markets?

Brexit is going to be bad for everybody, especially for the UK. The risk for a Spanish company is that, the UK being our fifth export market, if there are custom-duties and other similar measures, Spanish exports to the UK will be more difficult, or more expensive. They might lose competitiveness and the UK may replace them for exports from other parts of the world. There is a risk also for tourism, the UK being the number one country sending tourists to Spain, as right now there are no frontiers. If Brexit ends up being stricter and harder, there will be border controls, passports, and if the economy slows down the pound will also be devalued in relation to the euro. That means that Spain as a tourist destination will become more expensive than before. The UK is the first international foreign investor in real estate in Spain and this could also be problematic. Many Spanish companies have invested in the UK and they have business in electricity generation, banking, transport, managing airports and bus transport in the UK. All these might be affected.

What can companies do to circumvent these protectionist trends, and is there anything they can do now themselves?

Every company should have a contingency plan. There are UK funds that have invested and are shareholders in funds that could affect Spanish companies. Each company has a different position and different interests, so every contingency plan should be different.

What are the Club's objectives for 2019 and 2020, and how can you help your members further?

For the Club itself, we have a strategic three-year plan that we approved in 2017. We have defined key performance indicators so that we measure what we do and how we do it, in order to keep up with our activities and impact, for example. Regarding the Spanish economy and Spanish businesses, our goal is to facilitate and to create and contribute to a favorable environment within an international rules-based system. Open markets have been the main driver of wealth creation since the Second World War, and before. If that stops or slows down, there will be a negative impact on business. We are supporting the EU in negotiating trade agreements and we supported the one with Canada, the one with Japan and another one with Australia that is being negotiated now.. In Spain, our hope and objective is to contribute to creating a more competitive economy. We are asking for structural reforms; not undoing existing ones. We would like to go further and continue carrying out reforms so that our economy becomes more competitive. This means increasing the average size of companies, increasing research investment and development in companies and it means improving our trade diplomacy with more embassies abroad, as well as having more coverage for political risk.