Q What are the government’s priorities for economic development?
A We are looking mainly at sectors focused on R&D, as well as innovation. Until recently our economy was dominated by the construction industry, a sector with a low level of productivity. Technology is a value-added sector and has a much higher level of productivity, and for this reason the largest share of public spending in the government’s 2009 budget will be earmarked for R&D and innovation.
Q What other sectors do you wish to promote?
A When we speak of incorporating R&D, we are looking at a horizontal structure. That means R&D and innovation have to be adapted in tourism, our most important industry, as well as the energy sector, industry, commerce and transport, to name but a few.
Q What do you see as the main opportunities for foreign investment in these sectors?
A Foreign investors will find favourable conditions in the Canary Islands. We are a market of two million inhabitants and 12 million tourists a year. We are situated next door to Africa and we have been hearing for years that Africa is the continent of the future. Well, the future has arrived and this is Africa’s moment. Countries such as China have taken up positions in Africa and we are ideally located to play the role of a platform into the African market. We have a long tradition of relations with the Mahgreb countries as well as sub-Saharan Africa. We can also benefit from EU programmes designed to channel investment into Africa through the Canary Islands.
Q What do you see as the Canary Islands’ competitive advantages compared to the rest of Spain?
A One of the principal advantages is our geographical location. There are few places in the world geographically situated between America, Africa and Europe – and with the same social, healthcare and educational resources and transport infrastructure as the Canary Islands. We have two universities offering highly qualified training in all technical fields, engineering and telecommunications. We offer a large pool of human resources for any company wanting to do business here or in Africa. Our tax benefits are more appealing than elsewhere. Companies that set up in the Canary Islands effectively do not pay corporate tax, provided that profits are reinvested in the business. We are one of the six regions included in article 299.2 of the Treaty of Amsterdam that provides for a permanent special status of the most remote regions of Europe. This provides for granting exceptions to EU legislation.
Q What is the importance of foreign investment in the Canary Islands’ economic development?
A It is extremely important because it provides capital for a small yet open economy. Our economic decisions have no global impact and as we are an open economy, we need relationships with the rest of the world. Therefore, tourism, exports and foreign investment are the three pillars of growth of our economy.
Q Do you see growth potential in the tourism industry?
A Yes, but qualitatively and not in terms of numbers. We are not interested in new hotels or tourist villas so much as more facilities for leisure activities such as golf, walking, water sports and all sorts of other outdoor activities. In a word, complementary activities.
Q How have the Canary Islands been affected by the global economic crisis?
A The impact is unavoidable as our economy is so dependent on the rest of Spain. One thing that concerns us is the relatively low level of productivity. Spain needs to overhaul its labour legislation – not to make it easier to reduce staffing levels but to increase productivity.
Q An obvious obstacle is the lack of direct flight connections with major economic centres such as the US, Latin America and some European cities. What is being done to address this problem?
A There is an enormous opportunity for international airlines to link the Canary Islands with the rest of the world – above all with America, as well as more European and African destinations. This is a point we raise with all foreign trade missions that visit the islands.
JOSÉ MANUEL SORIA
2007The Canary Islands
Regional minister of economy and finance
2007Gran Canaria Cabildo
2003Gran Canaria Cabildo
2003Parliament of the Canary Islands
Popular Party MP
1995Las Palmas de Gran Canaria