By Inigo Aduriz
Who is he?
Jaime Malet has been president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Spain since 2002, when he took office replacing Felipe Saiz Vilalta. He is regarded as the responsible for its transformation. Over the last 15 years, with Malet at the forefront of the institution, Spain has become the ninth investor in the U.S. and nowadays its priorities include increasing collaboration between U.S. and Spanish companies around the world – especially in Latin America and Africa – and continue to increase Spanish investment across the Atlantic.
New oil extraction techniques and the renewable energy boom are outlining a new energy sector and have made the U.S. modify its geostrategic priorities in the crude market.
He has been at the forefront of the American Chamber of Commerce in Spain (AmChamSpain) for the past 15 years, during which time Spanish investment in the North American country has gone from being almost imperceptible to its current solid position as the ninth investor in the first world power. Jaime Malet (Barcelona, 1964) highlights the potential of the American energy sector, where Spanish companies have become market leaders.
What does Spain bring to the U.S in terms of energy?
It has provided very little in this regard, as the two countries are quite apart from each other. American companies have invested in renewable power in this country and due to regulatory changes the results have ended up not pleasing investors. And, on the other hand, Spain has no fossil resources of its own to sell to a country that stands as the world’s number one fossil fuel consumer; this has to change. Spain has perhaps one of the most advanced oil and gas transportation networks worldwide. It also has refineries and, above all, some very important liquefaction plants. The United States is becoming the world’s top gas producer. The first gas tanker the country chartered was owned by a Spanish company. We expect part of the American gas sold in Europe goes through Spain.
Some U.S. states are clearly committing to renewable energies and green economy, as is the case of California. Do Spanish companies have a niche in this market?
I have been president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Spain for the last 15 years. The partners elect me every three years, which is much in their favor and not so much in mine. I find very significant that in these 15 years Spain has gone from a practically imperceptible presence in this country to ranking as the number nine investor in the U.S. market. This investment has been so far spearheaded by majors in the banking, construction, and energy sectors. In the latter, our partners represent a significant force in the O&G, renewable, and distribution sectors.
There are many plans and a lot of companies that are doing a great job. We hope this continues. We also see a huge opportunity for collaboration between U.S. and Spanish companies around the world, i.e. the Mediterranean, Europe and especially in Latin America, where Spain and the U.S. share the first, second or third place in sectors in which they don’t normally compete, and where their competitors abide by very different rules. This collaboration could generate a lot of stability and help preserve the rule of law in many Latin American countries.
Which Latin American country is more attractive and may offer more future prospects both for Spanish and American companies?
Countries where the companies would have to collaborate and create wealth in an intelligent manner, investing in people’s wellbeing, which is the most important thing when it comes to gaining stability. It would have to be countries where there is a chance to do a lot of business but maybe politics is getting in the way.
Are you referring to Venezuela?
I don’t want to get too specific because I believe each country undergoes a unique situation. But I also believe that companies should seek regulatory and political stability without getting into politics. It should be the other way around, helping the communities in which they invest.
Yet sometimes it is precisely politics what prevents these companies from getting to said countries
Then we must head to other countries to prevent them from falling into this situation. The collaboration between Spanish and U.S. companies should be based on supporting the communities to achieve political stability and preserve the rule of law. If this cannot be the case, it’s best to not do it at all. But if this process can be carried out without getting into politics, then it has a social purpose. In the U.S., companies donate a lot of money to social causes. Spain maybe has less tradition in this regard, but it is time we see more collaboration between companies, in order to develop public diplomacy, which is not controlled by the states but rather by the private sector.
This is also part of your labor at the American Chamber of Commerce in Spain
This is what we try to do here, yes. Corporate entities must serve these kinds of purposes and not be pawns of the administrations or political leaders.
The U.S. government is believed to control global oil markets by means of its surplus. Is this true?
I do not share this view. There are several energy revolutions underway that must be kept in mind. The first and most important one is related to extraction techniques, which has determined the sharp fall in global oil prices, that the world’s number one consumer is now the first producer, that the interests of the top oil major in the Middle East have changed – I don’t know if for better or worse – and that top major’s power with regards to its limitations and geostrategic ideas will change as this consolidates.
The other significant factor is that there is a renewable boom underway. Production costs for these types of resources are decreasing, and that is unstoppable. This is already influencing coal and oil production in some ways. We must focus on this context, without trying to guess its results. It is better to observe the picture at hand, without attempting to draw conclusions, since the world is changing in a big way and so is the energy sector.
There was some fear related to Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House. Have American companies changed their strategy since his term began?
It is very difficult to solve or look for archetypes in the American business model. In a country that is so important, is the third most populated country in the world, and accounts for 24 percent of the GDP, there is something for everyone. I have seen many people that are very happy with the current Administration and others who are much less content. I attended Trump’s inauguration – I was also at Bush and Obama’s inauguration – and I saw an amount of businessmen behind the President that I had not seen before.
We must remember that the U.S. is a large country, and some companies are with him, while others are not. I have met with the head of many multinationals over the past months and they all see positive aspects as well as some negative ones. Some even have personal inclinations. Overall, the business world is very flexible and pays more attention to the way in which a president governs and the decisions he makes rather than who he is.