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BUSINESS FOCUS - SPANISH FOCUS - SLOVAKIA'S EVOLVING ECONOMY AND EU ENTRY ARE ATTRACTING SPANISH INVESTORS

Spain shifts focus

THE TRADITIONAL business partner of Spain is Latin America. Its presence in Europe is thus not very significant. But since Spain entered the European Union, Spanish investors have been looking for their place in Europe. The EU could be a way to encourage mutual cooperation with Slovakia.
Only about 6 percent of Slovakia's overall imports from the EU countries come from Spain and it sends approximately 2 or 3 percent of its EU exports there.

THE TRADITIONAL business partner of Spain is Latin America. Its presence in Europe is thus not very significant. But since Spain entered the European Union, Spanish investors have been looking for their place in Europe. The EU could be a way to encourage mutual cooperation with Slovakia.

Only about 6 percent of Slovakia's overall imports from the EU countries come from Spain and it sends approximately 2 or 3 percent of its EU exports there.

According to the Slovak Statistics Office, in 2003 Slovakia imported goods from Spanish partners worth Sk22.4 billion (€559 million), about Sk1 billion (€25 million) less than the previous year. Meanwhile, Slovak goods worth Sk13.1 billion (€327 milloin) found their place on the Spanish market, Sk2.5 billion (€62 million) more than in 2002.

"Until now, the balance of trade was very much in favour of Spain. But we have witnessed a growing balance," Spanish Ambassador to the Slovak Republic Alfonso Diez Torres told The Slovak Spectator.

He pointed out that the rate of Slovak exports to Spain is growing steadily. In 2002, it increased by about 30 percent, while exports from Spain to Slovakia were more or less unchanged; there was even a small decrease.

"Somehow, this means you are doing better. But it is good; trade is balanced. This is the best point of departure for increasing trade relations.

"I am very confident that, once you are a full EU member, trade figures can only grow. The one thing we should fight for is to get more Spanish investments here," the ambassador added.

Spanish businesses mainly sell appliances and machinery, agricultural products, IT services, and shoes and clothes on the Slovak market. Slovaks are mostly successful on the Spanish market with chemicals, steel products, paper, glass, machinery, and clothes.

"A major sign of confidence [for Spanish investors] is in the evolution of the economy. This takes time to change. But, of course, being in the EU now it's a matter of time before investors start to look for opportunities here," Torres pointed out.

Spanish firms in Slovakia operate mainly in the commercial sphere in distribution and transport, in information technologies, and in importing Spanish or international goods.

"We have a few [investments] in trade distribution, the automotive sector, in air transport (Sky Europe), and in Danube boat trips," added the ambassador.

In light of the automobile boom in Slovakia, one of the latest fields of interest for Spanish investors is the production of car components.

Jobelsa, a Spanish producer of car seat upholstery, announced last June that it wanted to open a new plant in the eastern city of Košice. Initial investments should reach Sk150 million (€3.7 million). The plant should employ about 400 people. In coming years the volume of investments and the number of vacancies should gradually grow.

"Perhaps what we need are major investors who can attract other small and medium-sized companies to come here. Because Slovakia's good performance lately has been attracting the interest of Spanish investors.

"In some cases, companies displaced from Catalonia are here. This is not very much liked, of course, but at the same time it is a way to know about the potential of a country that is still not very well-known in Spanish business circles," summarised Torres.

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