Spain's competitiveness increasing after reforms, experts say

Amsterdam, Apr 3 (EFE).- The Spanish economy has gained in competitiveness and is more solid after the reforms and adjustments undertaken by the government and it is once again becoming an attractive destination for foreign investment, though high unemployment remains a challenge.

This viewpoint was expressed Wednesday in Amsterdam by the director of Spain's Business Council for Competitiveness, or CEC, Fernando Casado, and economist Jose Manuel Campa during the presentation of the report "Spain, Country of Opportunities."

"Spain is a solid economy and will begin its recovery at the end of this year," Casado told an audience that included executives from firms such as ING, Royal Dutch Shell and ABN-Amro as well as people interested in investing in the Iberian nation.

"Spain is dispelling the doubts there were about its economy. The risk premium now is about 350 points, when during the worst moments of the euro crisis it was at 600," according to the head of the CEC, which comprises more than a score of leading Spanish companies.

"Spain," Casado said, "is innovative and competitive. Those are the reasons why now is a good time to invest" there.

Campa, Spain's former secretary of state for the economy, emphasized to the audience that the CEC report "tries to give an optimistic view and emphasizes the positive aspects of investing in Spain and its unknown strengths."

The document is intended to break "the crude stereotype that Spain, in broad strokes, is a country where there has been a big real estate boom, with big indebtedness and lack of competitiveness," he said.

"Spain is the country that has achieved better results, moreso than Germany and Holland, in maintaining its export market share since the creation of the euro," added the economist, who also emphasized that "there is no banking sector that has been more ... scrutinized than the Spanish one."

Campa mentioned his country's 26.3 percent jobless rate and said that still "not enough has been done" to contain the problem.

"With six million unemployed, you can never say that enough has been done," he said, adding that "in 2014 we will see substantial net job creation."

The CEC document emphasizes that the labor market reforms undertaken by Spanish authorities will have an impact in the medium term and that by 2020 the country will have added 1 million net jobs, the majority of them for skilled workers.

CEC analysts forecast that the Spanish economy will grow by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of this year after seven consecutive quarters of recession.

While Spain's gross domestic product is expected to shrink 1.4 percent for 2013 as a whole, the CEC projects GDP growth of 0.8 percent next year, creating the conditions for expanded employment.

Among the most outstanding aspects of the Spanish economy, Campa pointed to significant progress in exports and the high competitiveness in the textile and tourism sectors.

Spanish exports have increased 25 percent compared with their levels before the economic crisis, according to figures from the CEC, and Spain is running a trade surplus with the other nations in the euro zone.

"It should be no surprise the Latin American companies use Spain as a gateway for their internationalization," Campa said.

The two experts also emphasized the cooperation that Spain traditionally has had with Latin American firms in both the construction and financial sectors and in important projects like the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They also presented Spain as a country with a "strategic" location for accessing emerging markets, both in Latin America and in Africa.

CEC members include giants such as Telefonica, El Corte Ingles, Mango, Grupo Barcelo, Banco Santander, Repsol, Acciona, La Caixa, BBVA, Inditex, Grupo Planeta, Mapfre, ACS, Ferrovial, Havas Media Group, Mercadona, Iberdrola and the Instituto de la Empresa Familiar.