Catalonia strengthens trade ties with Japan and Central America
Catalonia and Japan have renewed their business, cultural, touristic and research ties for the next three years, through the so-called ‘Japan Plan 2016-2019’. The Government presented the agreement, approved last 25th of October, on Monday and explained that it aims at boosting business promotion, investment attraction, tourism cooperation, student mobility and cultural and gastronomic exchange. While the presentation of the Plan was taking place on Monday morning in Barcelona, a mission organised by the Port of Barcelona and Acció, the Catalan Public competitiveness and internationalisation agency, was in Panama trying to improve the trade relationship with the Central America region. The Catalan Minister for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget, and the Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull, accompanied fifty Catalan companies on their visit to Panama and Cuba, where they held 300 meetings with local businesses.
Barcelona (CNA).- In the last few weeks the Catalan Government has carried out some activities to boost and expand its economic relationships with Japan and Central America. In this sense, the Government presented this Monday the ‘Japan Plan 2016-2019’, approved last 25th of October, which seeks to consolidate the good relations with this country. In its third edition, this strategy includes business promotion, investment attraction, tourism cooperation, student mobility and cultural and gastronomic exchanges. As for the trade relationship with Central America, the Catalan Minister for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget, and the Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull, accompanied fifty Catalan companies on a visit to the Panama Canal expansion works on Sunday. The aim of this first activity of the trade mission organised by the Port of Barcelona and Acció, the Catalan Public competitiveness and internationalisation agency, is to expand Catalonia’s trade ties in the region through a cooperation agreement signed on Monday between Acció and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Panama.
Panama, the entrance to the Central America market
With the Japan Plan in mind, the Catalan Government is trying to achieve similar trade relationships with other countries overseas. In this vein, businessmen from 50 Catalan companies travelled to Panama where they held 300 meetings with local companies. This trip to Panama and Cuba is in the framework of a mission organised by the Port of Barcelona and Acció that seeks to strengthen relations with both these countries and increase the economic weight of Catalonia in the region.
The Catalan Minister for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget, the Catalan Minister for Planning and Sustainability, Josep Rull, and the President of the Port of Barcelona, Sixte Cambre, accompanied the companies on this trip. Baiget stressed that the mission to Panama and Cuba was “not only aimed at both these countries, but at an area and a region, Central America, which constitutes a market of 60 million people and which is expanding”. “They are countries that have few services, little industry and that import almost everything”, he stated. “We have to be there and increase our influence and economic weight”, the politician said.
For his part, Rull showed himself to be convinced that Catalonia has the potential to attract international investment and highlighted the strategic location of the Port of Barcelona as a “stopping point halfway between the Suez Canal, which allows connection and communication between Asia and Europe”. Rull also said that the mission wanted to give a “clear” message on a global scale: “Catalonia is a serious, reliable, predictable and solid option” for trade.
Barcelona, a “global benchmark in the urban and mobility fields”
The Mayor of Panama, José Isabel Blandón, officially received on Monday the Catalan business mission that landed in the Central American country. Blandón underlined the potential of Barcelona and cited it is a “global benchmark in the urban and mobility fields”, as well as in subjects related to waste management and smart cities. The mayor expressed his hopes that the mission will serve to “strengthen ties” between Catalonia and Panama, but highlighted that they do “already exist”.
The meeting with the mayor served to sign a cooperation agreement between Acció and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Panama in order to “facilitate investment processes and companies’ location”, detailed Baiget. Panama currently has a total of 68 Catalan companies located within its borders and more than 270 Catalan businesses regularly export to the country.
The Mayor of Panama explained that there are several Catalan companies involved in the development of municipal projects such as the creation of a new park of 20 hectares, the restructuring of the most important public market in the city and the improvement of a sports facility. In fact, Blandón said that he particularly appreciates Catalan companies’ “good planning, and their rapid integration into the environment and into the Panamanian sensitivity on environmental issues”.
Panama City’s Metro Line 1, the first launched in Central America, has also a Catalan imprint. On the one hand, the trains have been manufactured in Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, a Catalan town in central Catalonia, by the French train manufacturer company Alstom. On the other hand, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) have been consulted by the Panamanian Government on mobility, technical assistance and staff training. As part of the trade mission, Rull and Baiget toured on Monday the new subway line to learn more about how the infrastructure works. The model of mobility in the metropolitan area of Barcelona “is taken as a reference and cloned in other parts of the world and that has to make us proud as a country”, Rull stressed.
Japan, a consolidated trade ally in Asia
While the Government seeks to increase its influence in Central America, it has already launched the third Japan Plan. The Asiatic country is a top-rated and consolidated trade ally for Catalonia in the Asian Pacific axis. “The relationship between Japan and Catalonia is undeniable, important and increasing and is going to improve in the coming years”, stated the Catalan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Raül Romeva, during the presentation of the Japan Plan 2016-19 this Monday.
“The assessment of the two past editions is really positive. We have joined forces to promote business exchange and improve the environment, so that Japanese companies can invest in Catalonia and the other way around”, the Consul General of Japan to Barcelona, Nahoito Watanabe, said. Currently, 192 Japanese companies are located in Catalonia, which account for 80% of the total amount of Japanese business carried out in Spain. Furthermore, around 600,000 Japanese tourists visit Catalonia each year, according to the figures given by Watanabe.
Nearly half of the 46 actions included in the Japan Plan for the next triennium belong to the field of economics and business, which is divided into five areas: ‘competitiveness, infrastructure and business environment’, ‘relationship with Japanese companies located in Catalonia’, ‘attraction of investment in origin’, ‘internationalisation of Catalan companies in Japan’ and ‘innovation’.
Cultural and gastronomic exchanges
Regarding the field of tourism, the plan focuses on infrastructure, security and development and includes a section to promote knowledge of the Catalan and Japanese cuisines. The emphasis on this field comes as no surprise as the Catalan chef Ferran Adrià recently received the Order of the Rising Sun, the highest decoration given by the Japanese Emperor, Akihito, for the international promotion of Japanese culture.
Two areas that the plan also aims at strengthening are universities and research, facilitating the mobility of researchers and students and collaboration in R&D; and culture, with actions such as the promotion of Catalan and Japanese craftwork and the organisation of translation seminars and cultural and artistic activities.
A historical relationship and a favourable context
Although the first contact between Japan and Catalonia date back to the seventeenth century, when the mission of the Japanese ambassador Hasekura Tsunenaga passed through Barcelona and visited the Monastery of Montserrat, in 1615, it was not until the 1970s that the relationship between the two countries was established. Initially it focused on the field of business and investment and lately it has been consolidated in other areas such as culture and tourism.
In his speech on Monday, the Consul General of Japan to Barcelona recalled that 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Spain and also highlighted the celebration of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. “The best historical conjunction is coming to further strengthen the relations of friendship between Japan, Spain and Catalonia under this Japan Plan scheme”, Watanabe said.