Spain is on its fifth consecutive year of positive growth, having returned to pre-crisis GDP levels and recovering an estimated two-thirds of jobs since the 2008 financial crisis. The most recent annual data from the World Bank shows that overall volume of Spanish exports of goods and services in 2016 amounted to 407 billion euros, one-third of the nation’s GDP. The Spanish Chamber of Commerce recently announced an increase in its 2018 growth forecast to 2.7 percent, up from 2.4 percent, along with the creation of 430,000 new jobs.
“The brand Spain is a great brand… This is a great country, and it has great potential,” said José Luis Bonet, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Spain. He said the sectors that are already succeeding most internationally, and have the potential to succeed most in the coming years, are agri-food and large technical consultancies, like the leading producers of large infrastructures.
Additionally, Spanish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are growing rapidly, though they require increased support to build technical capacity and expand globally. It is estimated that more than 99 percent of active Spanish enterprises are SMEs, accounting for more than 70 percent of the total workforce.
“After the crisis, Spanish SMEs have learned that they have to take on the world, because globalisation is a reality they have to adapt to… the Chamber’s network is playing a most significant role here,” said Bonet, who is also CEO of Freixenet, a sparkling wines producer based in Barcelona.
Bonet explained that the process of internationalisation requires financing, and in this area, “there are tools that exist, which we are attempting to make even better, to address situations such as alternative markets to the stock market, the question of seeking specific funds for the financing of SMEs in their development process, and many others.”
Moreover, digitisation is a big issue area, as Industry 4.0 – the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – takes hold. In fact, it is of such great importance that the Spanish Chamber of Commerce created a digitisation commission that is focused on making SMEs aware of digitisation initiatives and developing digital professionals.
Recent research from the Spanish banking group BBVA places Spain in an intermediate position in a digitisation ranking: 30th out of 100 countries, behind nations like France and Germany, but ahead of other southern European countries like Italy and Portugal. Spain is much better prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution than it was for previous ones, according to the BBVA analysis.
Recent studies have shown digitisation could contribute to an increase in Spanish GDP growth of 1.8-2.3 percent by 2025.
Beyond support to SMEs and digitisation efforts, the Spanish Chamber has several key functions that enable it to be a major promoter of commercial activity in Spain, promoting Spanish competitiveness and helping to create a more extroverted economic model. The Chamber, which consists of 85 chambers in Spain and 36 abroad, is the “institutional defence of the system, and of companies as key elements in a social market economy system,” said Bonet.
It also acts as an advisory mechanism, ensuring vital information related to the industrial and commercial sectors reaches the Spanish administration. And it is an intermediary body in the management of EU funds, specifically the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund. According to Bonet, between the 2014-2020 period, 430 million euros will flow through the Chamber, reaching, SMEs in particular.
A key aspect to ensuring SME growth and expansion – and, thus, the continued growth of the Spanish economy – is an open trade regime.
“The European Union has to be a leader of free trade, of commercial liberalisation, which is what allows countries a significant and accelerated growth, and that definitely has shown us which is the path that must be followed,” Bonet said. “Anything insisting on protectionism leads to setbacks, economically speaking, and perhaps further. This is why the European Union has to be very clear that its role is to defend free trade.”
Bonet noted that the EU is relatively close to agreeing on an important trade treaty with Mercosur, the South American trade bloc. In fact, Spain has been wholly behind this treaty for two decades, acting as a bridge between Europe and Latin America, with its historical and cultural ties to the region.
Bridges, interconnection, and unity are things Bonet is well known for – beyond being one of Spain’s most well-respected entrepreneurs. “I’m Catalan, Spanish and European” is one of his key phrases.
“Spain has to know that its future and the welfare of its people, depends on the Union.”