By : Taha Sakr & Mohamed Samir
To better understand the nature of Saudi – Spanish relations, LEADERS MENA magazine paid a visit to HE Jorge Hevia Sierra, the Ambassador of Spain to Saudi Arabia. This was at his residence in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh. Mr. Hevia talked about bilateral relations in politics, culture, and education, and his personal experience in Saudi Arabia after the unprecedented transformation that hit the Kingdom under the reign of the Custodian of the two holy mosques, King Salman, and his Crown Prince, HRH Mohamed Bin Salman. The conversation was cheerful, energetic, and friendly.
Mr. Hevia showed us around his gorgeous residence. Reading is a huge part of his life. Therefore, he spends hours researching local and international publications that cover Saudi Arabia’s history since its birth 300 years ago. He also reads books related to the holy places of the Kingdom. For him, it’s pretty amazing.
Through the below Q&A, we will shed light on Hevia’s life in Riyadh and the level of bilateral relations between the two countries.
Can you tell us more about the upcoming phases of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia & Spain?
We could embark on an exciting phase in our bilateral relations with the high-speed train between Mecca and Medina. Next came the building of five ships, and then Riyadh’s metro. All three marked the beginning of an exciting phase in our bilateral relations. So we built a very significant infrastructure connected to these contracts. I believe additional energy is needed to maintain the same intensity in our mutual relationship.
Well, that’s why to me it is very significant that the Saudi-Spanish Business Council would be a valuable tool for fostering our relations.
So we can conclude that bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Spain are primarily commercial in nature.
Yes, we have to admit that.
As Saudi Arabia moves through a significant transformation process, its economic and financial situation is very stable.
One could say that Saudi Arabia has a lot of financial muscle. Its leaders are working tirelessly to make it a powerful country leading the world.
This was evident when it presided over the G20.
The country’s leaders have the ambition of being stronger in the future. Consequently, we see a lot of foreigners and businessmen from other countries present in the Saudi kingdom.
Can you elaborate on the type of Spanish companies that are working in Saudi Arabia? And if possible can we get details on the volume of Spanish investments here and vice versa?
We have old companies that were based in the kingdom a long time ago maybe in the 80s in the field of construction. We have other companies mainly related to the oil market.
We have almost 100 Spanish firms.
The two countries offer many mutual opportunities for investment and trade, reaching a trading volume of more than 5 billion euros per year, all as a result of a “fruitful dialogue” between the public and private sectors.
In 2021, Saudi exports to Spain reached a value of $3 billion (SAR11.4 billion), while Spanish imports to Saudi were valued at $2.34 billion (SAR8.9 billion).
Both nations are also working on various initiatives that will help foster economic growth.
Do we have other areas of cooperation between Spain & Saudi Arabia?
Yes, we have. For instance, Spain has established two of the most prestigious business schools in Saudi Arabia. We also have a school for science.
There is a wide variety. We are beginning to have a number of companies in the tourism sector. The tourism sector is going to be very significant here as Saudi Arabia is planning to receive 100 million tourists according to the 2030 vision.
Moreover, Spain’s architecture is doing well in Neom and some of its huge projects.
What about the Spanish community in the kingdom? What is your estimation of the number?
Well, it’s not very large. We are almost 2000 people, mainly based in Riyadh and Jeddah. Several Spanish companies built projects in the Kingdom, and the population grew rapidly as a result. But we have a solid consular section here in the embassy that serves both Saudis and Spanish people.
What do you consider one of your most significant achievements in Saudi Arabia as an ambassador?
In October, I witnessed the celebration of the joint commission launched in Madrid. And also, there was a delegation from the Saudi minister of economy traveling to Spain.
This high-profile delegation included many prominent Saudi companies. This was a sign of the strong bilateral business relationship between the two countries.
During the aforementioned delegation visit, the Saudi minister of the economy had discussions with more than three ministers or something like that in Spain.
Can you tell us about cooperation in the tourism sector? How many Saudis visit Spain? What is your target audience for further recruitment?
Tourism is one of the priorities on our agenda as part of our 2030 vision for Spain and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia could become a leader in the tourism sector. Saudi Arabia is on that path and investing a lot of money to become a distinguished tourist destination.
That’s why there are so many opportunities here.
Meanwhile, Spain is a very powerful country in the tourism sector. I saw that we (Spain) had 7.5 million tourists last year. According to official statistics, Spain is the world’s leading tourism destination.
Therefore, I believe that Spain can play a significant role in this ambitious plan that the kingdom has to enhance tourism in Saudi Arabia.
Apart from transport and other areas of cooperation between Spain and Saudi Arabia, what sectors are likely to increase Spanish investment in Saudi Arabia? From your point of view?
Shortly, our collaboration in the shipbuilding sector is going to be decisive. So also there, Saudi Arabia has a very ambitious plan to begin building their ships here, and we will accompany them in that task.
So we will continue our support to the kingdom in the engineering and construction sectors, we will also extend cooperation to include sectors like the cultural and entertainment like what happened with the sports sector when the football legend Cristiano Ronaldo joined the Saudi football club of Al-Nasr.
How do you evaluate the recent culture & social boom that took place in Saudi Arabia over the past five years?
What is happening is very impressive and has changed a lot of the incorrect stereotypes about the kingdom.
For instance, I met recently with two journalists from Spain. There was one who said that women don’t work in Saudi Arabia.
I told him you can only find them at the airport finishing his papers when you land at any of the kingdom’s airports.
Your Excellency mentioned Spain is helping Saudi Arabia in the shipping sector. Are we talking about civilian or defense ships?
Well, mainly defense ships or warships.
We are delighted with this contract, as well as with this collaboration between the Saudi Navy and us.
This deal is favorable for us and profitable for them as Spain always has competitive advantages over its partners.