, DECEMBER 3, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo was expected to arrive in Madrid yesterday on the first leg of a seven-day European official trip starting with a four-day state visit to Spain to further enhance the economic, historical, cultural and diplomatic ties between Spain and the Philippines.

Her state visit to Spain is the first by a Philippine leader in 45 years. The last Philippine president to make a state visit there was Mrs. Arroyo’s father, former President Diosdado Macapagal.

The President, accompanied by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, was scheduled to arrive at the Madrid Barajas International Airport at 4 p.m. (11 p.m. Manila time) where she will be given arrival honors as a visiting head of state.

Mrs. Arroyo will be welcomed by Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Miguel Angel Moratinos and Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines Luis Arias Romero.

The other members of the welcome party are Director General for Asia-Pacific Foreign Relations of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jose Eugenio Salarich Fernandez de Valderama, Director of Madrid Barajas International Airport Miguel Angel Oleaga, aide-de-camp of the King of Spain Lt. Col. Ramon Alvarez de Toledo.

On the Philippine side, Presidential Chief of Protocol Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr., Philippine Ambassador to Spain Joseph Delano Bernardo and Mrs. Bernardo will welcome the President.

After the airport ceremony, Mrs. Arroyo and the First Gentleman will proceed to the Palacio Real de El Pardo, the official residence of the President during her four-day state visit here.

She is scheduled to visit the Philippine Embassy and Residence there before proceeding to a meeting with the Filipino community in Madrid at the La Salle Colegio Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas. She will end her first day here with a private dinner.

Bunye said the “trip reaffirms the historic and cultural ties of Spain and the Philippines, and solidifies our dynamic bilateral relationship. Our country currently receives the bulk of Spanish development assistance to the region.”

Some of the country’s strongest trade and business ties with Spain are in the tourism, renewable energy and environmental technology, construction and medical services sectors, Bunye noted.

“There is also an opportunity to expand investment in these areas. Our information communications technology, infrastructure and logistics sectors also provide significant opportunities for Spanish businesses,” he said.

Her first full day today starts with welcome honors at the Palacio Real de El Pardo Front by King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia at the Palacio Real courtyard.

At noon, she will address the joint session of the Spanish Senate and congressional leaders.

After her address at the joint session of the Spanish Senate and Congress, she will join the Royal Couple at a private lunch at the Palacio de Zarzuela after a brief wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Plaza de la Lealtad.

Mrs. Arroyo will also be receiving calls by some officials and businessmen before her scheduled visit to the Madrid City Hall.

A gala dinner hosted by the King and Queen at the Palacio Real de Madrid will cap her second day in Madrid.

Meanwhile, trade between the Philippines and Spain is perking up, thanks to the vigorous efforts of the Philippine government to invigorate the two countries’ economic partnership, officials said.

Ambassador Bernardo said that trade between the Philippines and Spain grew by an average of only 10 percent during the five-year period, with the former always at the short end of the two-way trade.

In 2006, however, Philippine exports to Spain registered a 27 percent increase, the biggest yet in the two countries trade relations, and breaking a five-year pattern of the former’s flat export performance.

“There’s plenty of room for improvement, especially in the area of investments,” Bernardo said, not to mention the boost that a more vigorous Philippine-Spanish trade will have on the Philippines’ campaign to make Spain the base of its European trade expansion program.

He said Mrs. Arroyo’s state visit will “reinforce our efforts in forging a Spanish-Philippine relations in such areas as defense, tourism, renewable energy, infrastructure, agriculture and fisheries as well as employment opportunities in the health and engineering sectors.”

Last year, Spain ranked as the Philippines’ 31st trading partner, accounting for a mere 0.20 percent of total Philippine trade with the world of $98.5 billion.

As an export market, Spain was down at 25th place, accounting for only 0.18 percent of total Philippine exports to the world of $47 billion in 2006. But as an import source, Spain accounted for 0.21 percent of the total Philippine imports of $51.5 billion.

The principal Philippine exports to Spain consist of crude coconut oil, imitation jewelry, Portland cement, cement clinker and machine parts and accessories.

On the other hand, the Philippines’ principal imports from Spain are pharmaceutical products, parts and accessories of transmission and radio receivers, sausage and ham casings and other food products.

Several Spanish companies are now operating in the Philippines, including Acciona, Mapfre, CAF, Zara, Laboratories Calier, Perfumeria Española, Camporfrio, Iber Pacific, Soluziona and Iberto Asistencia.

Bernardo said the government’s investment shopping list includes such leading Spanish firms such as Ferrovial, Indira and Gamesa to establish businesses in the Philippines in the next years.

“In order to increase our trade and investment with Spain, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the opening of the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) in Madrid,” Bernardo said.

The PTIC, which opened in October last year, has since received many inquiries and project proposals from a number of Spanish companies about business and investment opportunities in the Philippines.

“We hope to sustain this momentum in the coming months. Little by little, we will see a significant increase in the volume of trade and investment between the Philippines and Spain in the next few years through the efforts of the embassy and the PTIC,” Bernardo said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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