IBERO-AMERICAN SUMMIT

Economy will see growth this year, Prince Felipe tells business leaders

There is money coming in from all directions, says Santander CEO

Prince Felipe (left) with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. / Alejandro Bolivar

Crown Prince Felipe assured a group of businessmen in Panama on Thursday that Spain would see some growth by the end of the year.

Arriving for the two-day Ibero-American Summit, the prince told a group of regional investors that there were many positive signs that the Spanish economy was improving.

“Even though there are difficulties, the prospects are positive,” he said. “By the end of the year we will return to the path of growth and this trend will be consolidated in 2014.”

Representing his ailing father, King Juan Carlos, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery, Prince Felipe made his remarks at the opening of the ninth annual Iberoamerican businessmen’s conference, which is held in conjunction with the regional leaders’ summit.

“While there is still high unemployment, Spain has once again become competitive, production has noticeably increased, and our financial sector is much more solvent and efficient.”

Giving examples on how Spain has “regained investors’ confidence,” the prince pointed to the foreign money that is being pumped into the automobile industry and the stabilizing of the country’s risk premium rate.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but Spain has found the right road"

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but the Spanish economy has found the right road,” he said.

Prince Felipe arrived in Panama City on Wednesday night accompanied by Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy landed in the isthmus nation a short time afterwards.

But it wasn’t just the prince who had praise for Spain’s comeback economy. Panama President Ricardo Martinelli — himself a supermarket magnate — said “severity and sacrifices are now bearing fruit.”

At last year’s summit in Cádiz, the problematic Spanish and Portuguese economies were very much on the radar with Latin American and Caribbean leaders concerned that the countries’ financial problems would ripple across the Atlantic. This year, the leaders are worried about the slowdown of regional growth. According to IMF projections, growth in Latin America will be 2.7 percent in the coming years — less than half of what it has been in the last decade.

“The wind that blew our sails has calmed,” said Enrique Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development Bank. The IADB chief said it was necessary to double investment in infrastructure projects, improve work training and raise productivity.

Meanwhile in New York, Santander CEO Emilio Botín also praised the Spanish economy at a ceremony to mark the rebranding of his US affiliate Sovereign Bank to Santander. “In Spain, there is money coming in from all directions and everything: for the stock exchange, for public debt, for direct investments. There has been a drastic change in how Spain is seen abroad. There is so much confidence in Spain you can’t even imagine.

“It’s true we have 26 percent unemployment, but that will soon improve. Regarding loans, what I can tell you is that we are hoping for solvent offers. We are not going to lend to those who are insolvent; we had enough of that by handing out loans for construction,” he said.

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