Spain’s voice in Georgia isn’t always the loudest, but perhaps its lower profile is a symptom of slow, steady success.
Some 35 Spanish companies are well integrated into the state, from engineering consultancies to construction firms that have worked with the state’s transportation department for decades.
Those firms that have done the work of localizing in the U.S. could be in for a bonanza with the country’s coming infrastructure investment. President Joe Biden announced a deal with congressional leaders on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan that includes $579 billion in new spending on repairing roads and bridges, electric vehicles, installing new water infrastructure, environmental remediation, nationwide broadband and much more.
While a vote looms, it looks likely to pass, as moderate Democrats and multiple Republicans in the deadlocked Senate pledged their support.
Whatever the final form, the priorities dovetail well with the strengths of Spanish companies operating in the American market, said Francisco J. Garzón, trade commissioner of Spain in Miami.
“Those, I believe, are not going to change, and I believe the match between the priorities and what Spanish companies can bring to the table is almost perfect,” he said during a trade-focused Global Atlanta Consular Conversation over lunch, hosted by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and sponsored by Miller & Martin.
Spain has world-leading technologies in renewable energy, water management, agriculture and mobility, not to mention construction. Mr. Garzón, who was visiting Atlanta from Miami, noted that Spain is home to two of Europe’s top-10 tech startup cities: Madrid and Barcelona, and is a top-10 global fintech hub.
At times, however, Atlanta firms look past Spain when considering where to locate in Europe. Mr. Garzón is out to change that, starting by scouting out the landscape in Atlanta, whose tech hub has grown ever more significant in the two years since he took up his post as trade commissioner. With half of that tenure taken up by the pandemic, Mr. Garzón feels as if he was starting afresh during his first trip to Atlanta.
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“We have to build that bridge between both sides of the Atlantic. If a company from from Atlanta wants to scale in Europe, why not through Spain? It should be through Spain. Spain is the gateway to Europe,” he said.
Another helpful fact: Spain is also in the midst of its own 70 billion-euro economic Recovery Transformation and Resilience Plan, “with a view toward bringing more flexibility to the table,” fueled in large part by European Union COVID-19 recovery funds.
Along with reforms to labor and the pension systems, the Spanish commerce ministry has planned investments in mobility, urban regeneration, digital skills, 5G expansion, digitizing small and medium enterprises and more — mostly areas where Atlanta now thrives.
Mr. Garzón found himself in the city on the same day it hosted the second virtual edition of Fintech South, which has quickly become one of the country’s largest financial technology conferences. This year’s program featured a World Stage for the second straight year.
A former trade commissioner within the Spanish embassy in both Mexico and Brazil, Latin America’s two largest economies, Mr. Garzón noted that Spain’s mature banks naturally look toward Latin America when it comes to fintech innovation, but that Atlanta is slowly coming onto their radar.
Viewing Atlanta from Miami, an undisputed Latin American hub, he said the city should embrace its growing links to the region but really lean into its broader global bent, as evidenced by its 16 Fortune 500 companies.
“Doing business here connects us globally and with the whole of the US. So I believe that should be your pitch.”
At a bilateral level, he was heartened to see the U.S. and Europe clearing the way for a more collaborative approach on trade by removing some longstanding irritants.
The two sides recently extended to five years a temporary truce suspending punitive tariffs in the Airbus-Boeing dispute over airplane manufacturing subsidies, which had simmered for more than 17 years.
“We’re happy to say that’s clear and we can focus on what brings us together,” he said.
In the realm of digital services, the U.S. under Donald Trump had slapped tariffs on Spanish seafood, shoes, handbags hats and other products in retaliation for tax policies it viewed as being unfairly targeted toward impacting American tech giants. The 25 percent levies have been paused for 180 days while a broader framework on global taxation is negotiated at the OECD.
“The digital services tax in Spain is not retroactive, it is not extraterritorial and it’s not discriminatory. So from our point of view, there is no ground for the tariffs. But we understand that the U.S. authorities do have to do their job,” Mr. Garzón said. “The good news is that right now we are in the middle of conversations, and I’m really hopeful that this will have a happy ending, so we can focus on really on what we can do together and not on the differences. And I believe that’s a win-win situation.”
Spain, meanwhile, opened to vaccinated American travelers June 21, reigniting its thriving tourism sector. The country looks forward to welcoming U.S. students again as well, Mr. Garzón said, both for the economic impact they bring and the lasting ties their trips create.
“As a market, it is very important. But I’m not only thinking about the economic point of view, but the image, perception and the spillover effects that has afterwards, which are very very important for us,” said Mr. Garzon, an economist who between 2014-18 was managing director of ICEX, the Spanish agency for trade promotion and investment attraction.
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