Spain has everything under the Sun
By Reaven D’Souza
Ambassador Miguel Aguilar is a dynamic and astute diplomat who has in a span of two years made an excellent impact in the diplomatic circles with his warm and friendly disposition.
In a recent interview with the Managing Editor of The Times Kuwait, Ambassador Aguilar spoke at length on the historic links between Spain and the Arab world that form the bedrock of current relations with Kuwait. He also delved into the strong political, economic and cultural links that bind the two countries together.
Asked what propelled him to choose a career in the diplomatic field and his experiences so far, the Spanish envoy clarified: “The truth is, I have always wanted to be a diplomat. It is indeed a very vocational job, extremely challenging and not at all the sort of glamorous stereotyped life many people think of, but it is highly rewarding at the same time.
“Firstly, It has always been an honor to serve my country and this is definitely an outstanding part of my vocation. Of course, you can serve your country in different ways, all legitimate or equally valid. And this is what brings me to the second part of my vocation, as from my early years I had a strong interest in international matters and in diplomatic life.
“I graduated in Law from Madrid University and also got a diploma in French Law from Paris University, as well as one in European Union Law from San Pablo CEU University in Madrid. Soon afterwards I started my preparation to become a Spanish diplomat, which took me some of the best years of my 20s until I succeeded. In hindsight, all efforts were definitely worth it.
“Furthermore, being a diplomat offers you the opportunity to live many lives in one, traveling and settling from one country to another, getting to know people from different cultures all over the world. And you can do this in, let us say, a privileged way, as you may be able to witness personally some pieces of history while it is being made and even occasionally take a humble part in them. These are the types of things that I thought of and longed for when I was studying hard all those years in order to become a diplomat.
“Nonetheless, I would only encourage someone to choose this fascinating career if it really comes from inside them, as it is a very personal, intimate vocation, because sacrifices are costly, and it is not only a job, but a form of life.
“Abroad, my career has allowed me to serve in different corners of the world, in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and in South-East Asia, so I have been able to develop a broad perspective on international relations. As I said, I feel it as a privilege and never as a burden.
“With regard to the challenges I faced over the years in my career, well, there were many, including adapting to different places, cultures, religions or even civilizations, climates, people and a long list of others. Moreover, as I have not traveled alone in my career, the challenges also involve your family and to help them feel at ease in the middle of so many personal changes. I have to admit that it was not always easy, although in the end the experience was generally positive for everyone in my family.
“If I were to select some particularly challenging moments, I would like to mention the start of my career abroad serving in Baghdad, from 2001 to 2003. There would be countless difficult moments in those complicated two years, but looking back I believe that these complexities helped me to grow as a diplomat and as a person.
“Also, I arrived a little more than two years ago to Kuwait to take over as Head of Mission of Spain, at a time when it was of course, not very easy for anyone, as the COVID-19 made it hard everywhere and for everyone, also in this country, despite the great efforts and effective work by the Kuwaiti authorities.
“Nevertheless, from the very beginning, I was able to perceive a heartfelt, sincere kindness towards my country from so many Kuwaitis, including among the high officials, which made my start here much easier.
“I would like to avail of this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the Kuwaiti people who have shown me, from the very first minute, their love and fondness of Spain. I feel at home here, surrounded by so many friends of my country. This encourages me to keep on working along with the authorities and the Kuwaiti society so that together we can build an even stronger friendship between our two countries.”
The ambassador went on to note, “Spain and Kuwait enjoy an excellent political relationship. In fact, even during the hardest moment of the pandemic both Spanish and Kuwaiti Ministers of Foreign Affairs exchanged bilateral visits to both countries and held very engaging meetings that dealt not only with political issues, but also with other areas such as economic, trade, education and culture.
“In this regard, we are trying to make an extra effort to give a boost to our bilateral trade figures and of investment in both countries; There are some interesting projects in the pipeline in the realm of renewable energies, circular economy, health and food security that I am sure will soon become effective.
“On the economic and trade front, relations have intensified in recent years due to a greater presence of the Spanish Commercial Administration since 2011. This has led to a sustained increase in Spanish exports — from €149 million in 2009 to €367 million in 2019 and €397 million in 2021.
There are now 14 Spanish companies working in Kuwait and together they have been awarded projects worth over €4,300 million. Additionally, in recent years there is a greater flow of Kuwaiti investors in Spain in all modalities, including in portfolio investment, direct investments, or in real estate. Also, institutionally, the Agreement to Avoid Double Taxation signed in 2013 and several Memoranda of Understanding of economic content are allowing the strengthening of existing relations.
“However, bilateral investment figures are still modest and according to the Spanish Investment Registry, the stock of Spanish investment in Kuwait as of 31 December, 2020 totaled €64 million.
Regarding the stock of Kuwaiti investment in Spain, the figure as of 31 December, 2020 stood at €436 million, while as of 31 December 2021, it stood at €897 million. Meanwhile, portfolio investment of Kuwait in Spain could be over €5 billion, but it is difficult to give a precise figure, because it is made through investment funds.
Investment in real estate is also very significant as so many Kuwaitis own private properties in the south of Spain, or in Mallorca, Barcelona or Madrid.”
Turning to the recent inauguration of the Spanish Business Council in Kuwait and the resumption of direct flights between Kuwait and Madrid, the ambassador elaborated: “Spain and Kuwait hold a close bilateral relation that continues to develop not only in the political field, but also in the cultural and economic agenda. Trade between both countries has improved this year and gained momentum again after the previous pandemic period and additionally some new investments have taken place that will help to revitalize our economic links. We are soon going to hold a joint economic committee meeting between both countries that will surely facilitate progress in this field.
“The establishment of a Spanish Business Council representing Spanish companies in Kuwait will hopefully become a strong force for increasing trade and investment between both countries. We hope that in the near future Spanish companies will find new opportunities in areas such as engineering and infrastructure, food security or renewable energy sectors, to mention only a few areas of promising cooperation. Some very interesting projects are in the pipeline and I am sure that we will soon see some of these yielding fruit in the short term.
“Furthermore, as another example of the excellent momentum in our bilateral relations, we have to mention that last week Kuwait Airways relaunched its service to Madrid in what is the first direct flight between both capitals in almost 40 years. Additionally, the agreement with the Spanish Air Europa for a shared code agreement, is a real hallmark in our relations and a wonderful bridge for both countries to improve our links in all fields. A lot of avenues are now available to be explored and made effective but we can say that up till now the prospects for this flight are much favorable and beyond the initial expectations.”
Providing some interesting numbers on bilateral trade between the two countries, the ambassador noted, “The Spanish-Kuwaiti trade relations in the last five years are characterized by a trade balance favorable to Spain, by the diversity of Spanish exports compared to imports, concentrated in oil, plastics and chemical products. Clothing and fashion retail is an important part of our exports, resulting in the extensive presence of fashion brands (especially the INDITEX group) under franchise.
“In 2021 the Spanish exports (€397 million) increased by 26 percent compared to 2020 and Spanish imports (€54 million) decreased by 2 percent. The main exports were mechanical machinery, non-knitwear (14%), knitwear (9%), fuels (7%) and ceramics (5%). The main imports were mechanical machinery (50%), organic chemical products (30%) and plastics (14%).
“Also, compared to the same period of the previous year, our exports (€216 million) in the January-July 2022 period remained stable, while our imports (€122 million) more than doubled relative to a year earlier. There is no data available on our services trade with Kuwait and its classification.The main services demanded by Kuwait are tourism (more than 65,000 tourists), transport and insurance operations.”
Continuing on the topic of tourism from Kuwait to Spain, Ambassador Aguilar added: “Let me tell you first that Spain was visited in the last few years before the pandemic by more than 87 million people, making our country the second most visited worldwide. Spain is also a traditional holiday destination for many Kuwaiti families. Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis travel to Spain every year, among them a considerable number even own their own properties, especially in the south of the country. This last summer has been an authentic boom for Kuwaiti tourism to our country with many thousands more visiting Spain than in previous years.
“The reasons behind this interest in Spain can be very different from one person to another but I believe Spain offers high quality services with very competitive prices and at the same time provides a wide range of activities and possibilities for every tourist, all of which Kuwaitis will always find pleasant and satisfactory during their stay with us.
“Beyond the famous slogan ‘Spain everything under the sun’, our country has many more things to offer, such as one of the best football league in the world, a great gastronomy with scores of Michelin Starred chefs, an incredible variety of landscapes, a magnificent architecture, hundreds of thrilling golf courses or great shopping facilities all over the country are only some of the attractive features in our country. An excellent healthcare system, a mild climate and one of the best infrastructure networks in the world helps to make a stay in Spain a very safe, comfortable and wonderful experience for everyone.
Places like Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Malaga or Ronda have a very special meaning for the Arab historic heritage. But I encourage the Kuwaiti traveler to visit other cities as well, such as San Sebastian, Santander, Avila, Toledo, Valencia or the Canary Islands to mention only a few examples. Spain is full of wonderful sites and towns, a rich nature and a variety of landscapes. I can only recommend that you explore it and enjoy it and the new flight to Madrid will make it very easy, along with the excellent high- speed train network or the good highways all over our geography.”
Expanding on cultural exchanges with Kuwait and plans to boost people to people relations, the ambassador stated: “In the case of Spain, Arab legacy is not only part of our history, but it is also present in our Spanish identity: the importance we give to family, our hospitality, the Mediterranean agriculture and food, with products such as olive oil, or the way we socialize being some examples of our close deeply-rooted links.
“Much has been written by many historians about the brilliant period of the Arabs in the Spanish Al Andalus, as well as about the fruitful periods of peaceful coexistence in the XI or XII century in cities such as Toledo or Cordoba, the Arab Kurtuba. We are very proud of those pages of our history. Spaniards and Arabs have created throughout history a network of personal exchanges, experiences and bonds, which are the cornerstone of our relation. This is our vision and we want to keep working with this objective along with our Kuwaiti friends.
“We are also trying to improve the presence of the Spanish language in Kuwait, which if further introduced within the educational system, would provide students in Kuwait with knowledge of the third most spoken language in the world. Learning Spanish would open the doors for Kuwaitis to a much wider avenue of collaboration not only with my country but with the hispanic world as a whole, which is a region so dear to us and also full of opportunities.
“Similarly, we are working in close collaboration with the local authorities to foster our cultural exchange in areas such as literature, music, dance and sports.
We have many institutions here in Kuwait such as the Babtain Foundation or the National Council of Culture Arts and Letters, or the Casa Árabe in Spain, which play an interesting role in this regard. At the Spanish Embassy in Kuwait, we would definitely like more Spain in Kuwait and more Kuwait in Spain. We are working hard towards this goal. Both societies have to know each other better and do it better together.
A few good examples of good people to people cooperation are also in the realm of sports and we are working to improve those links: the prestigious Rafa Nadal Academy in Kuwait, or the presence of scores of sportsmen and women from Spain in Kuwait, coaching tennis, or paddle, which is witnessing a real boom in Kuwait nowadays, or as in the case of karate, where both the national coaches are Spaniards, or the football players in Kuwait at the Qadsia or the Khaitan clubs; or simply as personal trainers in the many gyms of Kuwait…”
Elaborating on the upcoming Spanish National Day celebrations in Kuwait, the ambassador noted: ”Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic constraints, we did not have the traditional official celebration for our National Day here in Kuwait, and we were not able to share it personally, something frustrating for everyone at the Embassy and, indeed, also for me and for my family.
As an ambassador who landed in Kuwait during the height of the pandemic, a little more than two years ago, this year´s celebration, including a reception in one the magnificent hotels of the city on 12 October, will become an occasion to get close once again to the Spanish community here and to all our friends in Kuwait.
We are also bringing two artists from Spain, a Spanish guitar master, Salvi, and a Flamenco dancer, Yaiza, who have been invited by the Embassy of Spain, in collaboration with the National Council of Culture Arts and Letters of Kuwait, to perform here. The event will be held on 13 October at the AbdulHussain Abdul Reda Theatre in Salmiya. You are all cordially invited to attend and enjoy this very special night for our embassy.”