New Spanish foreign minister makes Asia trade a priority

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Spain new Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said Thursday that boosting the country's economic ties with fast-growing Asia would be one of her priorities.

"We are going to intensify the economic diplomacy that is already underway and reinforce and expand our commercial ties abroad, especially in the Asia-Pacific region," she said after she was sworn into her post.

"The goal is to increase the visibility and presence of Spain in the region by consolidating the achievements reached in recent years as well as finding new ways to defend Spain's interests in the region."

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero named Jimenez, 48, as foreign minister on Wednesday in his biggest reshuffle since he took power in 2004. She had previously held the post of health minister.

Zapatero said the new team's major task was to repair the ailing economy and a jobless rate that has soared to more than 20 percent.

The International Monetary Fund expects Spain, which entered into recession during the second half of 2008 following the collapse of a property bubble that had fuelled growth for over a decade, to shrink by 0.3 percent this year and grow by just 0.7 percent in 2011.

By contrast it predicts China, Asia's largest economy, will expand by 10.5 percent in 2010 and by 9.6 percent next year.

While Spanish exports to China have grown fourfold since 2000 to more than two billion euros (2.7 billion dollars) last year, they still pale in comparison to Chinese exports to Spain which totalled 15 billion euros in 2009.

© 2010 AFP

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