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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » May 27, 2011
Spain in Poland
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Deals Despite the Distance
May 27, 2011   
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Iker Beraza, trade and economic counselor at the Spanish embassy in Warsaw, talks to Marcin Pawlak.

Have Spanish-Polish trade relations changed during the time you’ve been here?
Yes, I’ve seen a big change. You should make a distinction between trade relations and investment relations. Regarding trade relations, trade between the two countries has increased moderately in recent years. It has also been very balanced, without a large surplus on either side. In the past, Spain had a small surplus for a long time, then a deficit for a few years, and now Poland has a surplus. The volume has increased gradually, except in 2009 when it decreased a little due to the financial crisis, at least in Spain—as it was not really felt in Poland. One might even say that there was no crisis in Poland, which is admirable. In Spain, we had a serious crisis and that definitely affected Polish exports to Spain. In any case, the impact was quite moderate considering the severity of the crisis, and it has already petered out. Last year, trade with Poland grew by 13 percent, and exports from Poland grew by 19 percent. The overall figure exceeded 5.5 billion euros, which is pretty much what you would expect given that we are both members of the European Union and there are no trade barriers between us. On the other hand, we need to keep in mind that our countries are quite far apart. This is important because it impacts transport costs and leads to a natural difference in cultural tastes. For Poland, Spain is the 11th largest trade partner, and in the case of Spain Poland’s rank is very close to that, although a little lower, as Latin American countries figure prominently in our rankings.

Diplomatic relations have two different levels. We have Brussels and relations within the European Council, and I think in this area things are going quite well. We’ve had our rotating presidencies of the European Council very close to each other. We in Spain had the challenge of adapting all the requirements of the Lisbon Treaty during the presidency. We’ve been in close contact with Poland to share experiences with your country for its turn at the presidency, which will start in two months. I think everyone has high expectations of the Polish presidency. The level of preparedness is very high in Poland. You’re much better prepared than we were, although it was our third time holding the presidency, so we had some experience behind us. But many important issues will be taken into account during your presidency, although in the end we have to remember it’s only six months. In the end you only try to put issues onto a path that better suits Poland.

Overall, our relations are very friendly. We have summits every year, alternately in Poland and Spain. These summits began in 2003 after Poland entered the EU; the last one was held in March in Madrid. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk traveled there along with other ministers. We have a lot of common concerns regarding the EU as our size, and thus influence in the EU, are quite similar. Our neighborhood policies differ a bit as ours is south-oriented, towards the Mediterranean region, while Poland’s is east-oriented, towards Russia and other non-EU states.

Has the latest financial crisis hurt Spanish investment in Poland?

In the case of investment, the effect of the crisis has been much bigger. Even though Poland didn’t suffer as a result of the crisis, Spain did, and the companies that were investing in Poland in 2007 and 2008 either stopped investing or invested much less. We have now recovered and since the end of 2009 we’ve had three or four very big investment operations, including the takeover of Pol-Acqua by Dragados. Santandera has bought BZWBK. We are expecting an offer from OHL to buy Hydrobudowa in a friendly takeover. There are operations in other fields as well, although real estate development has ground to a halt almost completely. Some Spanish companies that were already on the market are expanding their production facilities—for example, Celsa in the steel sector and Zara in the clothing sector. Telepizza, which has been on the market for 15 years, is also expanding. The figures for this year still need to be revised, as they don’t include some of the large operations. The total right now is 250 million euros, which is pretty much the pre-crisis level. The language barrier has also always been there and we had a natural area for investment in Latin America, which leads to Poland being pushed back in terms of priority markets. Now many Spanish companies want to invest here to diversify their portfolios as they know that Poland is a “green island.” Construction companies are attracted by the infrastructure that still needs to be built in Poland, although we don’t know how much money Poland will have in European funds for this after 2013, but we can expect that intense infrastructure development will continue here for another 10-15 years. We know this because we the same happened in Spain before. Now we are focusing on high-speed railways.

Do you think the situation in North Africa will lead to an influx of tourists to Spain?
In some way this will benefit Spain, but in the short term, I have to say. This kind of alarming news sometimes doesn’t have any real consequences in terms of hurting tourism in the turbulent region as it’s not felt in the tourist destinations as much as in the capitals. But these kinds of revolutions that are occurring now create enough alarm to make people change their vacation plans. I think this will benefit Spain this year, but not next year. Either way we’ve seen some progress when it comes to the number of Polish tourists traveling to Spain, although the number could be higher. Spain is still considered a bit too expensive for the money people in Poland want to spend for their vacation. Transport is an issue as well, as there are more low-cost flights to Egypt, Tunisia, or Croatia. So we expect some acceleration this year but nothing dramatic.

Which Spanish companies have been the most successful in Poland?
Zara wasn’t even in Poland five or six years ago, and now it has started opening new stores very quickly, and wants to open more but there’s a bit of a bottleneck as there aren’t more shopping centers, and obviously they can’t open two stores in the same center.

Many less well-known companies have also been successful in sectors such as car parts, chemicals, paints, construction and aluminum. Our renewable energy companies are among the largest operators of wind power facilities in Poland.
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