The ASEAN Committee in Madrid (ACM) conducted an official visit to the Basque Country on 1 and 2 April 2019, where its members met with Basque government officials in the regional capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz and held an ASEAN business and investment seminar in the city of Bilbao.
Ambassador Philippe J. Lhuillier represented the Philippines, accompanied by Third Secretary and Vice Consul Mikhal de Dios and the Philippine Honorary Consul in Bilbao, Ms. Susana Palomino. The official visit and seminar were organized and coordinated through the Philippine Embassy in Madrid and the Philippine Honorary Consulate in Bilbao.
The other members of the ASEAN Committee in Madrid (ACM) included Vietnamese Ambassador Ngo Tien Dung (current chair of the ACM); Indonesian Ambassador Hermono; Thai Chargé d’Affaires Ms. Natenapa Kongsri; and Malaysian Chargé d’Affaires Ms. Khaeriah Zaheriah.
The ACM visited the Basque regional capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz to meet with members of the Basque Parliament, led by Speaker Bakartxo Tejeria Otermin. The parliamentarians described the composition of their House and expressed their interest in establishing inter-parliamentary relations with their counterparts from Southeast Asia, which was reciprocated by the ACM members.
The ACM was then received by Basque President Iñigo Urkullu, who explained the region’s unique, humanistic model for sustainable development, its rapid growth and urban transformation. President Urkullu noted that within Spain, the Basque region places second behind Madrid in attracting foreign direct investment. The Basque Country also has 100 businesses with an international presence and over 16,000 exporting companies.
President Urkullu stated that his government wishes to strengthen institutional collaboration and economic and cultural relations with ASEAN. As such, they have opened a Basque Government Office in Singapore, and with local specialized consultants in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The ACM members welcomed Basque interest in the ASEAN region and expressed their commitment to work more closely with their government representatives based in the ASEAN countries to generate greater trade and investment links.
Afterwards, the ACM paid a visit to the world-famous Basque Culinary Center located in San Sebastian. Founded in 2009, the institute focuses on modern gastronomy using a multi-disciplinary approach and conducts research on several levels, from laboratory sciences to social sciences.
The following day, the ACM held an ASEAN Business and Investment Forum in Bilbao. The opening speakers included Ms. Loreta Taborga, head of the Spanish Trade Ministry’s regional office in the Basque Country, who noted that while ASEAN’s growth has been impressive, Spain has yet to take full advantage of this. As such, Spain is now working actively through its five commercial offices in the region to explore more opportunities in ASEAN.
After a brief discussion on the ASEAN region’s growing economic potential, the individual Embassies presented their own trade and investment opportunities and incentives to the assembled company representatives. Ambassador Lhuillier and Mr. de Dios highlighted the Philippines’ close historical relationship with Spain, and noted the current administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program and the numerous prospects in Philippine manufacturing and service industries. The Philippine presentation concluded with a display of the country’s best tourism attractions. The business seminar was then followed by one-on-one meetings with individual Basque companies seeking to do business in ASEAN.
The official visit and seminar gave ASEAN countries gain greater exposure in the Basque Country, which is one of the most economically-dynamic regions in Spain. The region as a whole is wealthier, more competitive, and more export-oriented than the rest of Spain, with a per capita GDP that is roughly 30 percent higher than the national average.