This week in Madrid Spain and Australia laid the foundations for new trade links with Australia acting as the “springboard” for Spain into the Asian market and Spain, the gateway to the South American market for Australia. Spain's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Pique who met his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, for talks in Madrid earlier this week, while admitting that the volume of trade between the two countries is low in comparison to other trade partners, Pique believes that the commercial climate in both countries is right and that the volume of trade can be vastly expanded. Pique explained that Spain's main exports to Australia are cars, vehicle parts and electrical goods. Imports from Australia include minerals and technology, the latter of which Spain is keen to expand. “Spain is a very open market,” Pique said, adding that the country has developed a very positive and attractive global import/export image. A few years ago Spain invested some 12'000 million pesetas in Australia mainly in the telecommunications market, but last year, Pique said that Spanish investment Down Under dropped off slightly to around 2'000 million pesetas with Australian investment in Spain with a similar figure. “We're talking about figures well below the norm and also well below what we are capable of generating....let me remind you that in 1999 and 2000, Spain ranked in the top six overseas investors in the world. “It is true what Mr Downer has said, we have been focusing our commercial attention over the past few years within the European Union, the United States, North Africa and South America, but now we are turning our attention to Australia and the Asian market as a whole. “In 1999, we're talking about 60'000 million of imports and a similar volume of exports, figures which are still inferior to other markets,” Pique said. The Spanish and the Australians have devised a number of joint commercial projects for the Asian market and Pique said he is keen to see how they develop. Downer's visit to Spain has served to help consolidate the close friendship the two countries enjoy, “through gritted” teeth, Downer congratulated Pique on Spain's success in the Davis Cup tennis final when they defeated the Australians and in return, Pique congratulated Downer on Australia's performance at the Sydney Olympics. In an attempt to teach the Spanish more about Australia and its people, Australia will be the guest country at next year's International Contemporary Art Fair, ARCO, which is held in Madrid every year with Australian art and culture being the theme of the fair. This year's fair starts on February 14 and the guest country is the United Kingdom with some 250 national and international galleries taking part.

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