Spain, Qatar sign agreements aimed at boosting economic ties

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Spain and Qatar signed four agreements on Tuesday, including one regarding air transport, during a visit by the emir of the oil-rich state to Madrid aimed at boosting economic ties.

The two nations are "working together to sign other important contracts in the coming months," the Spanish government said in a statement following talks between Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

"During their meeting both leaders expressed the desire to intensify bilateral economic relations. There is a major scope to develop commercial and investment ties between the two nations," it said.

"Commercial ties are currently concentrated in energy imports and there is a clear commitment by both sides to diversify them."

The agreements signed Tuesday include one regarding air transport between Qatar and Spain, the country in Europe which receives the most foreign tourists after France.

"There is great interest on the part of Spain to develop Qatari tourism in our country," the statement said.

The two nations also signed an agreement to boost security cooperation and another to set up a Spain-Qatar business council.

Spain also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Qatar National Olympic Committee.

The three-day visit follows a trip to Qatar, an absolute monarchy of fewer than one million people, by Zapatero in March during which he received pledges of some 3.0 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in investments, some of which would go to Spain's ailing savings banks.

Days later, Spanish power giant Iberdrola said that Qatari investment fund Qatar Holding would buy a 6.16 percent stake in the group for 2.2 billion euros.

Crisis-hit Spain is also reportedly interested in investment opportunities for its construction companies raised by Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Spanish media said.

The Spanish government said it was negotiationg a memorandum of understanding with Qatar for cooperation in the area of infrastructure and transport as well as one for the area of tourism.

Spain is battling to revive its economy and rein in its massive public deficit and convince nervous markets that it will not require an international bailout similar to that requested by neighbour Portugal this month and granted to Greece and Ireland last year.

Spain's imports from Qatar totalled 855.9 million euros in 2009, virtually all of it, 93.8 percent, gas and other hydrocrbons, according to Spanish government figures.

Spain sold goods and services worth 183.6 million euros to Qatar that year.

© 2011 AFP

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