Mutually enhancing the two countries’ images of the two countries is key to greater economic exchange
The first session of the II Spain India Forum was devoted to analysing the current relations between the two countries. Moderated by the Chairman of Elcano Royal Institute, Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, the session started with the presentation of the paper “Spain and India: seeking stronger bilateral relations” by researchers Rubén Campos (Elcano Royal Institute) and Jayshree Sengupta (The Observer Research Foundation).
For Jayshree Sengupta, the two countries “are partners that naturally complement each other, but which have gone unnoticed by one another for a long time” for historical, language and geographic reasons. Now that they are discovering each other, it is important to “change the perception of Spain as a far-flung country” and develop its brand image: “people wear Zara and Mango clothes and no-one knows these are Spanish brands”.
Jayshree Sengupta believes the potential for the development of bilateral relations is massive and that India offers Spain, “a highly advanced country, technically speaking”, opportunities in sectors such as agriculture, energy and food processing.
The need to improve Spain’s image in India is also a priority for Rubén Campos. However, the researcher at Elcano Royal Institute says the starting point is positive, given that India “is one of the non-neighbouring countries that values Spain the most”. Technology, science, education and culture, for example, are all areas that offer great potential for cooperation between the two countries.
The working paper by Elcano Royal Institute and ORF served as a starting point for a round table made up by Fidel Sendagorta, Director General for North America, Asia and the Pacific at the Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation; Venkatesh Varma, the Ambassador of India to Spain; Tech Mahindra’s Account Director, Akhil Gupta; Joan Rosás, Director of International Financial Institutions at CaixaBank and the Director of Casa de la India, Guillermo Rodríguez.
All the participants agreed that, although there is great potential for cooperation between India and Spain in the mutual interest of the two countries, that potential isn't currently being leveraged. Ambassador Venkatesh Varma pointed out that, out of the 70,000 Spanish companies that invested abroad in 2016, barely 100 invested in India, in a year when India saw the largest foreign investment inflows globally.
This could come down to a number of reasons: from the difficulty of learning the language, as pointed out by Akhil Gupta, to the need to think of long-term investments and the lengthy processes involved, as mentioned by Joan Rosás. The CaixaBank representative stated that, although it is true that “the Indian market is not easy compared to Latin America and Africa, where Spanish companies have a lot of experience”, it should be stressed that India “has a very clear legal system, of Anglo-Saxon origin, which is very secure and offers guarantees that might not be found elsewhere”.
This security is, according to Venkatesh Varma, one of the advantages India has to offer Spanish companies. “There has been no case in which foreign investors have lost money in our country,” he said.
All the panellists agreed that giving greater visibility to success stories could play a key role in encouraging trade between Spain and India. Both Akhil Gupta and Fidel Sendagorta mentioned Talgo, whose participation in the modernisation of India's railway system has contributed to positioning Spain as a cutting-edge country. Other companies such as Navantia, Indra and Prosegur, according to Ambassador Varma, are “examples of Spanish companies which have successfully opened the door to many opportunities in India”.
Agriculture and agro-industry, food processing, water resource management and pharma are just some of the many sectors which, according to the participants in the round table, could offer opportunities for Spanish companies in India. According to Fidel Sendagorta, India sees Spain as “an important partner” in transport, infrastructure and smart cities, and emphasised the potential offered by the defence industry.
Mr Sendagorta also underlined the importance of Spain for the internationalisation of Indian companies, which are “expanding internationally in a way they never have before. They look to Latin America and find a language barrier, and therefore turn to us as an ally in Europe”. Tech Mahindra's Akhil Gupta agrees with this: “All Indian companies seeking to do business in Latin America have to go through Spain first. Due to the time difference, Spain is in the middle and serves as a bridge between them”.
One of the keys to driving trade between the two countries, both in terms of quantity and quality, lies in enhancing their mutual images. Soft power is therefore crucial and must be “a state priority”, in the words of Guillermo Rodríguez.
According to the Director of Casa de la India, “culture is closely linked to the economy and to business” and has “a direct impact on long-term economic and business relations”. That is why it is all-important to place the utmost importance on events such as this Forum and the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Spain-India diplomatic relations in 2016, as well as fostering the presence of Spanish artists at culture festivals in India. “The use of these events,” he said, “is part of brand creation.”
Guillermo Rodríguez also emphasised the importance of educational exchanges and the promotion of Spain as a filming location for Indian movies. The image of Spain in India, said Akhil Gupta, improved remarkably after the release of Bollywood movies filmed in Spain.