Today I propose a conversation with Jaime Malet, president of AmChamSpain, the US Chamber of Commerce in Spain. In the interview we will talk about the Spanish economic perspective, Catalonia, Spain’s relations with the United States and the next US elections.
– Dear Jaime, have you recently had a conversation with Minister Calviño, has she relatively convinced you of the plan for economic recovery?
Vice President Calviño has valuable knowledge of how financial mechanisms work in the European Union, from her previous experience as a senior official and Director General of Budgets of the Commission. I also see orthodoxy and the search for efficiency criteria in the highest economic head of the Government. The sum of these factors makes it essential to articulate the application of the 140,000 million euros of European aid from the «Next Generation» fund and, in general, to bring common sense to the urgent need to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the midst of great political fragmentation and institutional erosion.
I also see quite a bit of realism about the harsh reality of the economic situation, which was a long time coming in the financial crisis of ten years ago. And I believe that progress is being made in the way in which European funds are going to be invested, in the taxonomy of projects within that perception of urgency. I believe that it does not touch other than a great consensus among the main political forces, under the scrupulous gaze of our international creditors, to undertake far-reaching reforms that transform our productive model.
We still do not realize the effects that the brutal fall in demand and destruction of supply will have on our wealth and on the country’s productive structure. But I think that without consensus we will not get out of it well.
– Is there anything that doesn’t seem right to you?
As I pointed out to the vice president, it does not seem right to us that since March foreign investment in broad sectors has been restricted to US companies and funds (and other comparable non-EU countries such as Japan or Canada). And on the other hand, the investment of European companies and funds in Spain is allowed without restrictions.
Right now we believe that US investment is more necessary than ever. Giving a competitive advantage to European investors can lead to a loss of sovereignty at very low cost. In the Chamber, we believe that limitations on foreign investment to prevent opportunistic acquisitions in critical sectors must be limited exclusively to companies from non-OECD countries.
– What impact can pressure from the extreme left have on Spanish economic policy to increase taxation and modify the labor reform?
We are against increasing taxes at this time. In Spain only 32.4% of the population works for the private sector. We believe that in the pandemic and post-pandemic scenario, we must be very careful with announcements of tax increases or new tax figures that could further discourage business activity and investment. We understand that it will be necessary to consolidate, but this is not the time to talk about it.
As for the labor market, we are in favor of changing the labor framework, but not in the sense that has been announced. We believe that the system is still too rigid to allow the relocation of the workforce from sectors that will necessarily lose weight to those that will have to pull the economy in the coming years. Labor reform and educational reform are fundamental for the reskilling, the adaptation of workers to the new skills that will be needed. This was already the case before the pandemic, due to the digitization process, AI, robotics, etc. Now it is even more necessary.
– As a Catalan, how do you see the Catalan political situation in relation to the need to join forces for the economic recovery of Spain?
The Catalan political situation has been a disaster for years. And despite the drama of the pandemic, it seems that the only thing that continues to interest is to increase victimhood, useless gestures and seek new fronts, ridiculous as they may seem, for the confrontation, necessarily very unintelligent, with the rest of Spain. Unfortunately a moment of realism is coming. Thousands of companies have left, talent does not come and will not come from the rest of Spain, nor from Europe, and if the discourse does not change quickly, the decline of Catalonia will last for decades. Furthermore, the world has changed and what happens here is of very little importance, even less than three years ago. Hundreds of thousands have been brainwashed with the public media.
In few democratic places there is a television like TV3 paid by all the taxpayers that works 24/7 to keep some tense and others bored or intimidated. In Catalonia there are many who think that large demonstrations and continuous complaints, despite managing millionaire budgets for decades, are the symbol of the greatness of a people, but I observe the world and I only see so many histrionic gestures in the most decadent dictatorships. I am pure Catalan and it causes me enormous damage that a few politicians have done this to Catalonia, a land of hard-working and serious people.
– As president of AmChamSpain, how do you see the political and commercial relationship between Spain and the US?
I see the relationship well and many opportunities in the future. Spain and the United States share geostrategic and economic interests. The US is the first investor in Spain since the 1960s and has been creating enormously positive effects on the productive fabric since then. On the other hand, the US, which was an impossible destination for Spanish investment, is today the second investment destination. We have gone from being a very minor investor to being the 11th direct investor. The relationship is good politically, without fanfare, and this was to be reflected in the state trip of the Kings in April that had to be canceled due to the pandemic.
Above all, I see great opportunities to strengthen our collaboration, especially after Brexit. The US needs to have a stable ally within Europe, and Spain can occupy that place, taking into account shared interests of mutual influence in other latitudes (Latin America and the Mediterranean mainly) and the language, which we share with more than 50 million of Americans.
– How do US investors see Spain in this situation?
Investors around the world are in a situation of wait & see. 2018 was a record year for foreign investment despite political instability, but in 2019 foreign investment was at a minimum. We as an entity have the responsibility to work for the equity story before the big American investors and we work with our three hundred partners to attract them to Spain.
– Last question. How important are the US elections, not just for the US, and what would be the consequences of an eventual leadership change?
Elections in the US are always important and if there is a change of leader, a lot will change, but not everything. Among other things, it will not change the decades-long struggle for world hegemony between China and the US. Nor will the process of retreat in globalization change. Technological changes allow more and more to produce near (nearshoring or offshoring) and the pandemic, which has made visible the enormous dependence that Westerners have on Chinese exports, is going to greatly accelerate this process.