Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Spain: Looking beyond the Bulls, Paella and Beaches: Geoff Ward Examines the New Zealand-Spanish Relationship and Predicts Closer Ties in Future

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Spain: Looking beyond the Bulls, Paella and Beaches: Geoff Ward Examines the New Zealand-Spanish Relationship and Predicts Closer Ties in Future

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, at the Davos Forum, an American businessman was quoted as saying: 'Spain? Bulls, paella, wine, tourism and an enormous crash. A high risk real estate hedge fund'.

These stereotypes probably pretty much sum up the average New Zealander's view of Spain too. A lot of New Zealanders have visited Spain and had a great holiday. But how many of them were aware that Spain has the eighth largest economy in the world?

This is a fundamental issue. With a few exceptions the New Zealand and Spanish business communities do not know each other. Of course, there are reasons for this. Spain's focus has long been on Latin America and the Mediterranean and in the last generation on integrating itself into European institutions and markets. New Zealand was a very distant and small market and we spoke English. We were little more than the intriguing and almost mystical notion of the Antipodes.

For New Zealanders, modern Spain is a very recent development. From the time it joined the European Union, it has blossomed into an open, tolerant, democratic, market-driven state, whose per capita GDP now exceeds that of Italy. For this period, when Spain has been looking to Europe for institutional linkages, commercial tie-ups and the answers to public policy challenges, our own business community, academics, scientists, politicians and policy-makers have been focused on northern Europe. In short, Spain has been overlooked.

But does this make sense? If we look at Spain's economy, the traditional sectors are agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, fishing and forestry. Does that sound familiar? If we look at new technologies we find that the Spanish government is putting investment and research dollars into biotechnology, bio-medicine, alternative energies, nanotechnology, information and communications technologies--with the objective of lifting Spain's research and development performance and driving its productive base into higher-tech and greater added-value industries. Does that sound familiar? When I visited Galicia, with its huge fisheries and aquaculture industries, I found scientists grappling with the causes and effects of marine toxins--red tides--on the shell fish industries and the impact of farm chemical runoffs on the marine industries. Does that sound familiar? With one or two exceptions I found too few signs of collaborative research between our respective scientists that could be of mutual benefit.

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Equal ranking

I spent a lot of energy during my term as ambassador looking to stimulate and support science and research interactions. Spain and New Zealand rank virtually equal in tables on research and development spending--below the OECD average--but Spain is driving forward rapidly. Prime Minister Zapatero committed to increasing Spain's research and development budget 25 per cent per annum during his first term and has sustained increases to science spending despite the current economic downturn. Invariably, I found Spanish institutions were very keen on establishing links with New Zealand. Now is the time to do it. I was delighted that during the visit by the king and queen of Spain in June both countries expressed the 'will to broaden our collaboration in scientific and technological research for mutual benefit' and agreed to establish a three-year mobility programme, with each side provide funding of around $50,000 annually to support scientists in developing co-operation and joint research proposals.

With regard to the royal visit, I have to note that the New Zealand media are among those unable to look beyond the bulls and beaches. The significance of the visit went unremarked. It represented in fact a substantial commitment by both sides to broaden and intensify bilateral engagement and work together more closely on regional and international issues. Yet, how many of the general public learned about the new accord on science? …

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