The Spanish premier also discussed efforts to bolster international coordination to improve vaccine distribution worldwide, mitigate the effects of climate change, and improve Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.
Al-Ahram: What is your reason for visiting Cairo at this time, and what are the most prominent topics that you will be discussing during your visit?
Pedro Sánchez: My visit to Egypt aims to strengthen the ties between our two countries on all levels, fostering deeper political, economic, and cultural bilateral relations. Spain sees Egypt as a strategic partner - a country that has always played a fundamental role in the relations between Spain and the Arab world, and a cornerstone of the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. We should also increase trade and commercial links between Egypt and Spain, especially now as we recover from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
As we leave the pandemic behind, we must build bridges and renew the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. My vision for our region is that of prosperity, and a future with opportunities for the youth. It is up to the leaders of this region, on both shores of the Mediterranean, to stand up for this vision and work together to achieve it.
AA: Spain was one of the most prominent 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 achieved so far regarding economic cooperation between the two countries?
PS: Sharm El-Sheikh’s conference represented an important milestone in the stabilisation and international relaunch of Egypt’s economy. Since then, significant progress has been achieved, as is widely recognised by the international community and various international financial institutions.
Indeed, the Spanish delegation was among the first delegations to arrive at Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015 with a group of very high-level political officials and business executives. During the summit, a memorandum of understanding on transportation was signed, which resulted in a 1 million euro grant 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 quadrupled since then — from 15 in 2015, to 60 today. Trade between both countries 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 this visit can bring a new boost to trade and investment relations as the visit to Sharm El-Sheikh did.
AA: Spanish investments in Egypt currently amount to less than $1 billion. What is the way to increase these investments, and are there obstacles to the flow of these investments?
PS: The global financial crises over the past decade have taken a hard toll on our economies, and this has been reflected in the trade and financial flows between us. Some of our companies suffered the consequences of this context in a very direct manner, discouraging further investments. Fortunately, these problems have been solved. I am certain that a brighter future lays before us.
Egypt has undertaken courageous structural economic reforms and it is expected to continue growing. Spain is undergoing an economic recovery and transformation process, and our companies are eager to make new investments and contribute to the prosperity of this country. We must seize new opportunities and work together for the benefit of our people.
My visit to Egypt aims to strengthen the ties between our two countries, including the promotion of trade and investment. We are encouraging the launch of a Spanish-Egyptian Business Council as well as enhancing the financing mechanisms with which the government promotes new investment projects.
AA: How did you see the latest results of the Glasgow Summit, and how are you going to coordinate with the Egyptian side before the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh?
PS: The Glasgow Climate Summit concluded with ambitious agreements, as reflected in the Glasgow Climate Pact, stepping up the international commitment to fight climate change at the multilateral level of the United Nations. Among other things, we took important decisions on climate financing.
At the COP26, Spain committed to increasing its international climate financing by 50 percent, reaching 1.35 billion euros per year from 2025. Spain also joined multiple initiatives to strengthen the climate agenda, among them the declaration on international public support for the clean energy transition.
We congratulate Egypt for being selected to host the COP27, Africa’s COP. We must work together to ensure the COP at Sharm El-Sheikh is an absolute success. Spain has recent experience as a host of the COP25 in 2019, and we stand ready to work with Egypt in order to push this agenda. Fighting climate change is a top priority for my government and this translates both into 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 donour of vaccines to the international vaccines’ mechanism COVAX. What opportunities for cooperation between Egypt and Spain do you see in facing this pandemic?
PS: There are two elements that have made such a vaccination rate possible. On one hand, a robust public health system with extraordinary health professionals. On the other, responsible citizens who trust in 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 have advocated from the beginning of the pandemic for international cooperation and a coordinated international response. Spain has and still is working to make this happen.
Spain supported the creation of the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX initiative.
We pledged to donate 50 million vaccines and we have already delivered over 30 million of them, including to Egypt.
Spain has allocated almost 4.5 million vaccines to Egypt through COVAX.
But international cooperation must go beyond sharing vaccines. It is fundamental that we increase production capacity globally, and this can only happen through sharing knowledge and ensuring the intellectual property rights international system is conducive to solutions, not an obstacle. This is why Spain joined the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) initiative in May to facilitate timely, equitable, and affordable access to COVID-19 health products. On 23 November, 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 easing of travel rules to and from several European countries?
PS: Tourism is very important to both the Egyptian and Spanish economies. We witnessed a strong recovery in touristic flows between our countries in the past few years — the sector grew by 80 percent between 2017 and 2018. But the pandemic shattered the sector worldwide. Spain’s tourism revenues decreased by 69 percent in 2020.
The main challenge ahead is restoring safe international mobility. This is why, a year ago, I launched an initiative at the OECD to establish common guidelines, which resulted in a blueprint that was approved in May this year.
We should also seize this opportunity to rethink the sector and put in place the structures of more sustainable tourism. We are closely working with the World Tourism Organization, based in Madrid, to achieve these goals.
AA: On this visit, will you discuss specific proposals with the Egyptian side regarding the situation in Libya, and does reopening your embassy in Tripoli mean an acknowledgement on your part of the improvement in the situation there?
PS: On 3 June, Spain reopened its embassy in Tripoli as a symbol of our country’s clear support for the stabilisation of Libya, a friend, a neighbour, and a promising nation. After 10 years of conflict and instability, this is a moment of transcendental importance for Libya’s future.
We fully support the Libyan-led stabilisation process and look forward to elections taking place by the end of the year, and for full security to be restored. Libyans stand at a critical moment in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections, which are planned to take place from 24 December onwards. It will not be an easy process, and elections will not be a silver bullet that will solve all problems. But they are a fundamental piece for the political stabilisation process. All actors involved must ensure that elections take place in an orderly manner and that the results are respected.
It is also fundamental to address the dire economic crisis the country is going through. Libya is a rich country, but the conflict has trapped it in a vicious cycle. Stabilising the economy is essential to restore public service delivery and enable job creation, both of which are critical for peace and reconstruction.
AA: What do you think about 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 just held a successful ministerial meeting on 29 November, and we should build on the momentum created. We envision the Mediterranean as a space for peace and prosperity, solidarity, dialogue, and cooperation.
The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) has made important progress over the past 25 years, but it is time to step up the political commitment that can enable this organisation 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 look up once again to its leadership in order to provide the Union for the Mediterranean with new dynamism and strength.