The Spanish Prime Minister also referred to the efforts to strengthen international coordination in order to improve the distribution of vaccines in the world, to mitigate the effects of climate change and to improve Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.
Al-Ahram: What is the reason for your visit to Cairo at the moment, and what are the most important topics that you will discuss during your visit?
Pedro Sanchez: My visit to Egypt aims to strengthen ties between our two countries at all levels, promoting the deepening of bilateral political, economic and cultural relations. Spain sees Egypt as a strategic partner – a country that has always played a fundamental role in relations between Spain and the Arab world, and a cornerstone of the Barcelona process and of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. We also need to step up trade and commercial ties between Egypt and Spain, especially now as we recover from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we must build bridges and renew Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. My vision for our region is that of prosperity and a future with opportunities for young people. It is up to the leaders of this region, on both shores of the Mediterranean, to defend this vision and to work together to achieve it.
AA: Spain was one of the most important countries that participated in the economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015. Can you tell us about the promises and agreements that have been made so far regarding the economic cooperation between the two countries?
PS: The Sharm el-Sheikh conference represented an important step in the stabilization and international revival of the Egyptian economy. Since then, significant progress has been made, as widely recognized by the international community and various international financial institutions.
Indeed, the Spanish delegation was among the first delegations to arrive in Sharm el-Sheikh in March 2015 with a group of top-level politicians and business leaders. During the summit, a transport memorandum of understanding was signed, which resulted in a grant of one million euros to conduct a feasibility study for the high-speed train connecting Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Hurghada.
The number of Spanish companies operating in Egypt has since quadrupled, from 15 in 2015 to 60 today. Trade between the two countries has also increased significantly since then, from 1.8 billion euros that year to 2.59 billion euros in 2018. As we recover from the effects of the pandemic, we expect growth to pick up again.
I hope that this visit can give new impetus to trade and investment relations as the visit to Sharm el-Sheikh did.
AA: Spanish investments in Egypt currently amount to less than a billion dollars. How to increase these investments and are there obstacles to the flow of these investments?
PS: The global financial crises of the past decade have hit our economies hard, and this has been reflected in the trade and financial flows between us. Some of our companies have suffered the consequences of this context in a very direct way, discouraging new investments. Fortunately, these issues have been resolved. I am sure that a better future awaits us.
Egypt has embarked on courageous structural economic reforms and is expected to continue to grow. Spain is undergoing a process of economic recovery and transformation, and our businesses are eager to make new investments and contribute to the prosperity of this country. We must seize new opportunities and work together for the good of our people.
My visit to Egypt aims to strengthen the ties between our two countries, including the promotion of trade and investment. We encourage the launch of a Hispano-Egyptian Business Council as well as the strengthening of financing mechanisms with which the government promotes new investment projects.
AA: How did you see the latest results of the Glasgow Summit, and how will you coordinate with the Egyptian side before COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh?
PS: The Glasgow Climate Summit concluded with ambitious agreements, as evidenced by the Glasgow Climate Pact, strengthening international commitment to tackle climate change at the multilateral level of the United Nations. Among other things, we have taken important decisions on climate finance.
At COP26, Spain pledged to increase its international climate finance by 50%, reaching 1.35 billion euros per year from 2025. Spain has also joined several initiatives aimed at strengthen the climate agenda, including the declaration on international public support for the clean energy transition.
We congratulate Egypt on being selected to host COP27, Africa’s COP. We must work together for the Sharm el-Sheikh COP to be an absolute success. Spain has recent experience as host of COP25 in 2019, and we are ready to work with Egypt to move this agenda forward. The fight against climate change is a top priority for my government and this is reflected in both our national and international policies.
AA: Spain has vaccinated 90 percent of its target population and, at the same time, you are the 5th largest donor of vaccines to the international COVAX vaccine mechanism. What opportunities for cooperation between Egypt and Spain do you see in the face of this pandemic?
PS: Two factors made such a vaccination rate possible. On the one hand, a robust public health system with extraordinary health professionals. On the other, responsible citizens who trust science.
Global and equitable access to vaccines is not only a right, but it is also the only way to control COVID-19. This is why I pleaded from the start of the pandemic for international cooperation and a coordinated international response. Spain has worked and is still working to make this happen.
Spain supported the creation of the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX initiative.
We have pledged to donate 50 million vaccines and have already delivered over 30 million, including to Egypt.
Spain has allocated nearly 4.5 million vaccines to Egypt through COVAX.
But international cooperation must go beyond sharing vaccines. It is fundamental that we increase productive capacity globally, and this can only be done by sharing knowledge and ensuring that the international intellectual property rights system is conducive to solutions, not at an obstacle. This is why Spain joined the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) initiative in May to facilitate rapid, equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health products. On November 23, we signed an agreement with the WHO to transfer the license of a diagnostic test developed by the Spanish Research Institution (CSIC).
AA: What about tourism cooperation between Egypt and Spain, especially in light of the gradual relaxation of travel rules to and from several European countries?
PS: Tourism is very important for the Egyptian and Spanish economies. We have seen a strong recovery in tourist flows between our countries in recent years – the sector grew by 80% between 2017 and 2018. But the pandemic has shattered the sector around the world. Spain’s tourism income fell by 69% in 2020.
The main challenge ahead is to restore secure international mobility. That is why, a year ago, I launched an initiative at the OECD to establish common guidelines, which resulted in a blueprint which was approved in May of this year.
We must also seize this opportunity to rethink the sector and set up structures for more sustainable tourism. We work closely with the World Tourism Organization, based in Madrid, to achieve these goals.
AA: During this visit, will you discuss concrete proposals with the Egyptian side concerning the situation in Libya, and does the reopening of your embassy in Tripoli mean recognition on your part of the improvement in the situation there? low ?
PS: On June 3, Spain reopened its embassy in Tripoli as a sign of our country’s clear support for the stabilization of Libya, friend, neighbor and promising nation. After 10 years of conflict and instability, this is a moment of transcendental importance for the future of Libya.
We fully support the Libyan-led stabilization process and look forward to the holding of elections by the end of the year and the restoration of full security. Libyans find themselves at a critical juncture ahead of the presidential and legislative elections, which are due to take place from December 24. It will not be an easy process and the election will not be a silver bullet that will solve all the problems. But they are a fundamental part of the political stabilization process. All the actors involved must ensure that the elections are conducted in the right order and that the results are respected.
It is also fundamental to face the serious economic crisis that the country is going through. Libya is a rich country, but the conflict has trapped it in a vicious cycle. Stabilizing the economy is essential for restoring public service delivery and enabling job creation, two essential elements for peace and reconstruction.
AA: What do you think of the Barcelona process and the collaboration between the EU and the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean to achieve regional stability?
PS: Spain is deeply committed to the Barcelona process and we would like to see a more integrated and prosperous region. We have just had a successful ministerial meeting on November 29 and we need to build on the momentum created. We see the Mediterranean as an area of peace and prosperity, solidarity, dialogue and cooperation.
The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has made significant progress over the past 25 years, but it is time to intensify the political commitment which can enable this organization to act as a catalyst for all efforts and initiatives aimed at Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and integration.
Egypt has always worked closely with Spain to articulate this relationship between Europe and the southern Mediterranean, and we are once again counting on its leadership to endow the Union for the Mediterranean with a new dynamism and new strength.