A SOFT LANDING

Spain 2020 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

ICEX does far more than let investors know who the key players are on the supply and demand side; it also helps them get over logistical hurdles in addition to identifying the most important clusters and opportunities.

María Jesús Fernández
BIOGRAPHY

María Jesús Fernández has a degree in economic and business sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid and has been a commercial technician and state economist since 1992. She is currently the Executive Director of ICEX, an organization in which she also held the position of director of finance and investor relations. Previously, she was an economic and commercial counselor in the economic and commercial office of the Embassy of Spain in Chicago and general director of international financing in the Ministry of Economy and Finance. She has also held other positions in institutions such as the Bank of Spain, where she was chief of the international relations division and head of European affairs.

How has ICEX evolved over the years, and what have been its main achievements?
Since 2012, Invest in Spain has been integrated as part of ICEX, which has been a major development. The integration was a complex process but was also rewarding and beneficial in supporting the internationalization of the Spanish economy. Now, we have a one-stop shop for the internationalization of the Spanish economy dedicated to assisting Spanish companies in their internationalization process, as well as attracting FDI. A second important development has been the way we have been adapting and broadening the services we offer to international investors seeking investment opportunities in our country. We have also been improving the personalized advice we provide investors on a wide array of issues that are key to their decision-making process, such as sectoral information, so they can get to know who the key players are from the supply and demand side and where the clusters and niches of opportunities are. We also provide key information on legal and fiscal issues, labor market regulation, visas and incentives packages. Basically, what we do is assist investors in a way that will help them make the right decision, and, once they have taken it, we help them land softly. To do this, we work closely with the different departments of the administrations responsible for each specific issue, as well as with regional and local authorities. We also have the help of a network of 103 economic and trade commissions that Spain has all around the globe. A third important development since our integration has been the work we are doing with Spanish companies seeking international partners to help them grow their businesses in Spain and access other markets; as a matter of fact, more often than not, when looking for an international partner, Spanish companies seek financing and integration into other companies' value chains in order to help them access other markets more quickly.

Is the legal and fiscal framework for foreign start-ups favorable in Spain compared to elsewhere in Europe?
Indeed, we have key competitive advantages that have contributed to making Spain one of the most attractive destinations for international investors. This is evident in terms of how FDI flows are entering the country, the way the M&A market is performing, and the volumes of investment in the private equity and venture capital industry. In 2017, Spain received more than EUR38 billion in FDI. In 2018, for the first three quarters, we exceeded this number by more than EUR40 billion. Compared to 2017, this represents, in gross terms, a 75% increase and more than 150% in net terms. Looking at how the M&A market performed in 2018, we can also see national investor's interest in Spain: there was more than EUR116 billion in investment, with 80% coming from international investors. And, finally, in the private equity and venture industry, we had record numbers of more than EUR6 billion of investment, 77% of which was led by international investors. Investors are seeing how strongly the Spanish economy is growing, with strong job creation and large competitive gains. Spain closed 2018 with 2.6% GDP growth rate, the fastest-growing economy among the largest economies in the eurozone. Going forward with a 2.2% GDP growth rate, we are set to be, again in 2019, the second-fastest growing economy among the world's most advanced.