The areas that the Indian Government has outlined as its national priorities are precisely those where Spanish companies can boast of world class expertise.
The story of India-Spain relations could arguably have been different if five centuries ago, when there was a keen interest in Spain to discover a sea route to India, a certain Christopher Columbus had not missed the left turn on exiting the Straits of Gibraltar! Just as mention of this historical episode is omnipresent in Indo-Spanish discourse, so is the prevalence of stereotypes about our two countries among our peoples. In Spain, India is seen as the land of maharajas and mysticism while, in India, Spain is imagined as the land of bull fighting, beaches and flamenco. Today, it is imperative that the two countries outgrow these stereotypes in order to better understand each other.
India, an IT and human resource superpower, is today the fastest growing major economy in the world. Investors and fund managers around the world believe that it will be one of the most stable and consistent sources of demand for the foreseeable future. Spain, having seen off the effects of the global financial crisis, is today the fastest growing major economy in Western Europe. Given the impressive economic recovery in both countries and the policies being adopted by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a range of areas, there is considerable synergy between the two economies that is waiting to be exploited.
By a happy coincidence, the areas that the Indian Government has outlined as its national priorities are precisely those where Spanish companies can boast of world class expertise. For example, Indian Railways, which has one of the largest networks in the world, is looking at investing nearly US$130 billion in the next 5 years as part of its modernization programme. Spain has the second longest high speed railway network in the world, transporting nearly 30 million passengers a year at speeds up to 350 kmph and Spanish companies are well placed to benefit from this by supplying rolling stock as well as systems, services and expertise. There could also be an
exciting investment opportunity for Spanish companies in this sector, which allows 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Similarly, under its Smart Cities Mission, the Indian government is targeting the development of 100 new smart cities and contributing US$15 billion over the next five years alone to this project. With one of the largest networks of Smart Cities in the world and with experience that is most relevant to India, Spain and Spanish companies are ideally suited to help implement smart urban solutions in India and contribute to our urban regeneration.
Under Prime Minister Modi's leadership, India has set itself the target of adding 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 with a view to increasing power supply in the country and also combating climate change. Spain is considered a pioneer in renewable energy and is among the top 5 countries in the world in terms of installed wind power capacity. Given the fact that Spanish companies are already active in India in this field, they are in pole position to benefit from these plans of the government.
Infrastructure is an area that will see intense activity in India in the coming years. The government's initiatives on building industrial corridors, roads, ports, airports and associated infrastructure will mean unprecedented investments in construction. With 100% FDI allowed through the automatic route for construction of townships and cities, it is a sector of great interest for Spanish engineering companies, which are among the largest global engineering contractors and are implementing iconic projects across the world like the expansion of the Panama Canal and the construction of a highspeed railway line between Mecca and Medina.
This is only an illustrative list to demonstrate the opportunities that exist for Spain and India to strengthen their bilateral economic and commercial relations. However, it is important for both sides to put in place the necessary institutional mechanisms that will facilitate such cooperation. For example, while both countries have already set up a CEOs' Forum comprising the larger companies, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have an equally important role to play in the growth of trade and investment between India and Spain. It is important that the two governments work closely with the chambers of commerce on both sides to help the SMEs understand the market and business environment and handhold them in successfully establishing a business presence in each other's country. Both countries also need to participate much more vigorously in specific trade and investment events in order to gain first-hand knowledge and exploit the opportunities for networking that such events offer. It is important also to strengthen institutional relations between our two governments, chambers and business associations. In this regard, the MoU being signed between FICCI and the Spain Chamber of Commerce will strengthen cooperation in key areas of interest for business communities from both sides.
Spain is a predominant political and economic partner for Latin America, given its shared cultural and historical relations with the continent. It is among the largest investors in Latin America and Spanish businesses are leaders in a wide range of sectors. For Indian businesses looking to explore opportunities in the Latin American market, Spanish businesses would be natural allies.
The FICCI-IIFA Global Business Forum is an excellent platform to take the next steps in building a more robust commercial relationship between India and Spain. Jointly organised by FICCI, IIFA and the Spain Chamber of Commerce on June 24, 2016 in Madrid, preceding the Bollywood extravaganza that follows a day later, the Forum will explore the possibilities for cooperation in renewable energy, infrastructure, services and media & entertainment. High level participation from the two governments and active support from institutions on both sides will bring businesses closer and help draw a roadmap for future engagement.
The year 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Spain. In the spirit of discovery that animated Columbus more than five centuries ago, it would be fitting to use this important anniversary to develop a strong and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship between India and Spain, two countries that have a lot more in common than just the shared values of democracy, pluralism and the rule of law. Let the voyage of rediscovery begin!.
Vikram Misri, India's Ambassador to Spain