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Jorge Hevia Sierra, Ambassador of Spain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

SAUDI ARABIA - Diplomacy

Jorge Hevia Sierra

Ambassador of Spain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Bio

Ambassador Hevia Sierra was born in Colunga (Asturias) in 1959. He has a Bachelor degree in Law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and a Doctorate degree in Law from the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino “Angellicum” in Rome. His thesis was about “Humanitarian intervention in conflict situations.” He became a member of the diplomatic service in 1985. He served as Technical Advisor in the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (1986-1989), at the Embassy of Spain in the Dominican Republic (1989-1992), the Embassy of Spain to the Holy See in Rome (1993-1996), and later as Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the Congress of Deputies (1996-2000). He was Chief of Staff in the Office of the Minister of Defence (2000-2004), and then Ambassador of Spain to El Salvador (2004-2008). He became Cultural Counselor in the Embassy of Spain in Italy (2008-2011)
Ambassador, and Permanent Observer of Spain to the Organisation of American States, OAS (2012-2017). Later, he became Deputy Political Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Madrid (2017-2021), and finally as Ambassador of Spain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Around 90,000 Saudis visited Spain, which is a remarkable number, and in 2023 we think that around 20,000 Spaniards should be visiting Saudi Arabia.”
TBY talks to Jorge Hevia Sierra, Ambassador of Spain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, about ties between the two nations, sports, and diplomatic priorities for the coming year.
How would you assess the evolution of the ties between the two nations?

We are pleased with our bilateral relations. We have received four visits of the Spanish Trade Minister, and various Saudi ministers have travelled to Spain in the last 15 months. We have years of shared history in terms of our relationship, unlike many countries. We are keen to continue the success of our relationship and the many business opportunities it provides. The Gulf region is highly attractive for Europe and for the rest of the world. Our main interests, taking into account the changes we are seeing in the country, relate to infrastructure, engineering and the defense industry. We are also interested in the exciting new projects related to renewable energies and tourism.

Saudi Arabia aims to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030, as the country focuses more on a diversified economy: as far as tourism is concerned, what lessons can KSA learn from Spain, and how can the Iberian Country support and foster the growth of this strategic segment?

The latest statistics show that the KSA received around 18 million tourists in the first nine months and has the potential to host 24 million visitors this year, which is a considerable number. Spain hosts just over 70 million visitors, and is one of the world leaders. The sector has played a key role in our development since the 1960s. We believe that we can provide much expertise within this field, and are already beginning to receive large companies such as Barceló Group and Meliá Hotels International. We have strong relations with these major organizations. They will be playing a pivotal role in this field. Around 90,000 Saudis visited Spain, which is a remarkable number, and in 2023 we think that around 20,000 Spaniards should be visiting Saudi Arabia. We have also opened the first tourist office in the region, in Abu Dhabi.

The sport sector has witnessed remarkable development in the kingdom in recent years, with KSA hosting many international events, including the Spanish Super Cup.
At the new UNWTO regional office—with the support of LaLiga, Casa Arabe and Instituto Cervantes—you recently organized an event to promote a new chapter in Spanish-Arabic football. How can sports help Saudi Arabia to elevate its brand perception and how is Spain supporting the Kingdom in this field?

LaLiga is particularly active in the region and is competing strongly with the Premier League. There are many European trophies and in the last 20 years a good number of them have been won by Spanish teams while only a few by British teams. We are happy with our soft power thanks to the Spanish Super Cup being played in the Kingdom and the agreement between the two federations, as well as the creation of the women’s soccer league. This has also resulted in many Spaniards and journalists coming here and witnessing the reality of the country and the many things it has to offer. Saudi Arabia is using Sports to rebrand itself with a new image: the nation is bringing in renowned players and organizing many Art Festivals. Yet, the country is not focused exclusively on football: a recent press conference showcased the Saudi interest for the motor sport sector and the cooperation with the Formula E circuit. This is going to be very positive in the sports field because there are many events now taking place here. This is a clear proof of the nation’s ambition.

In 2021, Saudi exports to Spain reached USD3 billion, while Spanish imports to Saudi were valued at USD2.34 billion. How are you working to further stimulate trade between the two nations?

Our imports to Spain from Saudi Arabia are mainly oil related and we should try to increase exchanges in other areas. This is something that we are working on with our Saudi counterparts. Meanwhile, we are making serious efforts through the Spanish and Saudi Business Council and its new board, an institution in which we have great expectations. A particularly important meeting took place recently in Madrid in October 2022, regarding the Joint Commission Spain-Saudi Arabia, attended by the Minister of Economy and a large delegation of Saudi entrepreneurs. This was an excellent event, and followed another meeting held last June in Riyadh organized by the Minister of Investment. In that conference many Spanish companies held meetings with Saudi entrepreneurs.

As the head of the diplomatic mission, can you share your priorities for this year?

My priority is the Spanish Saudi Business Council; we want it to become a fundamental part of our economic relations. The cultural field is another priority. And in the area of education, we count on the presence in the country of our two best business schools -IE and ESADE- and also with the SEK school in Riyadh.

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