Interview-Spain eyes West Africa as investment destination
By Pascal Fletcher
22 November 2007
DAKAR, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Spain is turning to West Africa as a potential investment destination in a commercial and political offensive linked to trying to control flows of illegal migrants to its territory, its industry minister said on Thursday.
Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade Joan Clos this week led a large Spanish business delegation to Senegal, where he was due to sign a bilateral investment agreement.
Clos travelled from Angola, where he signed a similar accord on Wednesday, along with a memorandum of understanding for a financial cooperation programme with the oil producer.
Spain, which last year launched a "Plan Africa" for stronger political and economic engagement with the West African region on its southern flank, is also negotiating an investment agreement with Mauritania, officials said.
Clos told Reuters that an illegal migration crisis, which saw more than 30,000 Africans risk their lives in rickety open boats to reach the Spanish Canary Islands last year, had shown the need for better trade and cooperation with West Africa.
"The signing of the reciprocal investment accords aims in this direction, to make things easier to start a cycle of investment and business participation which helps to develop the economy (of the region)," the minister told Reuters in Dakar.
"This is confirming our policy of boosting relations with West Africa," he said in an interview.
Clos was accompanied by executives from 60 Spanish companies who held met in Dakar with counterparts from 120 companies from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Guinea, Cape Verde, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
The delegation included executives from Spain’s major energy company Endesa (ELE.MC: Quote, Profile, Research) and from other companies in the energy, agro-business, infrastructure and tourism sectors.
Although Spanish fishing companies are active along the West Coast of Africa, Spain’s trade with the region is still minimal. Imports from West Africa account for only 3 percent of Spain’s total imports, while Spanish exports to the region were 1 percent of the national total.
Bilateral trade with oil-exporter Angola is more developed and reached nearly 572 million euros ($848 million) in 2006.
Clos saw increased Spanish commercial and investment ties with West Africa as part of a strategy whose aims include seeking accords with West African governments to help stem the flow of illegal job-seekers trying to reach Europe.
"One thing coincides perfectly with the other," the minister later told reporters. The best way for Spain to contribute to solving illegal migration was to promote economic development in West Africa to keep young Africans at home, he said.
Clos said Spain was working to increase the number of legal job opportunities in its labour market that could be offered to West Africans. Earlier this month, Madrid announced it was making available 2,000 jobs in its fisheries sector and 700 jobs in agriculture for Senegalese workers.
As part of its three-year Plan Africa, Spain has increased its diplomatic and law enforcement presence inn West Africa, opening new embassies and posting security officers in major ports to monitor suspected migrant-trafficking vessels.
Spanish officials say this, combined with sea patrols of the West African coast with European Union partners, has helped to sharply cut illegal migrant arrivals in the Canaries this year.
Clos shrugged off suggestions that Spain’s commercial foray into West Africa might be limited by multi-million dollar investment offensives by China, India and Gulf Arab investors.
"I think the region’s needs are wide and so no one should be left out," he said. (Editing by Alistair Thomson)