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MANILA - Deep-rooted relations between the Philippines and Spain should bear more economic fruit, according to visiting members of Spain's civil society who are here for a high-level dialogue for cooperation between the two countries.
In a press conference on Monday, Spain's former defense minister Jose Bono compared Philippine-Spanish ties to "a tree that has more roots than fruits," saying that despite the historical and cultural affinity shared by the two countries, partnership potentials have not been maximized.
"Your history is also our history. We currently have normalized and very fruitful relationship, but it has not blossomed to such significance," said Bono, who is leading the Spanish delegation in the 6th Tribuna Espana-Filipinas dialogue to be held on January 29 and 30 at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center.
Bono blamed the challenges posed by the geographical distance separating the Philippines and Spain, but said this can be overcome through deeper talks.
"The 6th edition [of Tribuna Espana-Filipinas] will meet the challenge of distance and defeat the difficulty of distance," Bono said.
The talks, organized by Barcelona-based Casa Asia and its Philippine counterpart Fundacion Santiago, will explore collaboration between the two countries in trade and investments, heritage tourism, education and good governance.
At this time when Spain is starting to rebound from an economic slowdown and the Philippines is enjoying a boom, trade and investment relations should grow at a faster pace, especially as Spanish businessmen look at Asia as an emerging market, said Ramon Moreno, director general of Casa Asia.
"Spanish companies have realized they have to go abroad due to the economic difficulty in Spain," he said, adding that the Philippines is well positioned as jump-off point for the Asian expansion of Spanish firms.
For instance, Spain's leading milk and dairy goods maker Grupo Leche Pascual SA recently partnered with Asia Brewery Inc for the distribution of its yogurt lineup in the Philippines, with plans to build a manufacturing plant here to serve the Southeast Asian market.
Ten Spanish companies engaged in engineering, public works, runways and waterways are attending the 6th Tribuna Espana-Filipinas to share ideas as well as explore business opportunities here.
Since Spanish firms are well known in infrastructure and renewable energy, opportunities in the Philippines' public-private partnership (PPP) program may be explored, Moreno said.
Filipino investors are also most welcome to set up shop in Spain, he said.
Several local companies are also tapping opportunities in Spain, such as Andrew Tan-owned Emperador Distillers Inc, which recently announced its acquisition of a Spanish brandy maker.
"We want to increase the number of Spanish companies in the Philippines and also invite more Filipino companies to Spain," Moreno said, noting that two-way trade and investments between the two countries are "relatively small."
Data showed two-way trade between the Philippines and Spain in recent years amounting to $300 million. Spanish investments in 2010 stood at $57 million.
Tourism also presents huge opportunities for both countries. Spain last year welcomed 58 million tourists--more than the country's population of 45 million--but very few of them were Filipinos.
The number of Spanish tourists visiting the Philippines also remains low at 15,000 last year. "We want to receive much more tourists from the Philippines," Moreno said.
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