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Minister for Foreign Affairs addresses BPCC on its centenary

Paulo Portas, the Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs and President of the CDU-PP party, says Portugal will honour its international financial obligations.

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Starting by giving “a greatly deserved congratulations” to the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC) on its centenary, Paulo Portas reminded members and guests that 100 years ago Portugal had been going through turbulent times.

In the United Kingdom, it was the post-Victorian Edwardian Era which was “still at its peak” even though with the death of Edward VII and the approaching Great War it was drawing to a close.

On the one hand Portugal, a country leading with revolutionary instability (the King had been assassinated in 1908 and a Republic proclaimed in 1910) and on the other Britain, a country and its Empire which soon would radically change.

It was at precisely this moment that a number of businessmen and industrial and commercial entrepreneurs decided to form this “notable institution”.

“In the middle of a crisis in Portugal, the founders of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce had decided to promote and protect the very old commercial ties shared between the two countries,” he said.

This was done independent of the two country’s governments, regimes and eras, but in a contemporary and modern way to ensure the continuity of links that stretched back beyond memory.

Before, with the ‘Old Alliance’ – the oldest alliance in the world – a great Portuguese king, Dom Dinis (1261-1325), in 1308 and (later) King Dom Ferdinand and Edward III in 1373 had signed commercial treaties between Portugal and England (renewed in 1386 as the Treaty of Windsor). Even at that time, the notion of economic diplomacy was well understood.

In the 21st century, the economic links which have been protected and developed by this Chamber of Commerce have continued to be essential.

Commerce and the sea always united Portugal and the United Kingdom and just to show the importance of the commercial links between the two countries, he said it was useful to remember some statistics.

The United Kingdom is the sixth largest importer and the 10th largest exporter in the world and this has a significant relevance for Portugal, especially at a difficult time of high indebtedness, in which only growth through exports would enable the structural alteration of the current economic statistics.

“The United Kingdom is one of Portugal’s main commercial partners from the point of view of exports, occupying fourth place in 2010 and representing around 6% of total Portuguese exports.” (Trade between the two countries in 2009 stood at €4.7 billion).

In 2010, sales of Portuguese products to the United Kingdom had grown almost 13% against 2009, while purchases from the United Kingdom had also significantly increased.

Paulo Portas explained how the United Kingdom was the second largest supplier of goods and services to Portugal, a position it had continually occupied between 2006 and 2010, and corresponded to 13% of the total imported services in 2010.

“There are around 3,200 companies in Portugal that carry out purchase operations with the British market. A number that had evolved considerably compared with the previous year,” he added.

The BPCC and each one of its members are of inestimable importance for Portugal and the United Kingdom.

“No ministry or government can substitute the activities of economic institutions,” Paulo Portas said. But there was one thing that governments could and should do: “Facilitate, simplify and support”.

That was why, from an economic point of view, the present government, elected after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Troika and Portugal, was the one and without the possibility of backtracking.

“Portugal has to be seen as a country that meets its obligations. The more Portugal complies with its obligations, the quicker it will recover its financial autonomy. The Government, with a majority support in Parliament, is taking very difficult measures to reduce the deficit and invert the path of indebtedness.

“There is no way of reducing the debt and level of indebtedness other than rethinking the expenditure of central and local government, regional governments and public companies.

“Portugal signed an agreement with foreign institutions, an agreement which meant a loan avoiding a declaration of bankruptcy, a serious rupture in the financial system,” he said.

The principle of confidence and trust between states is exactly the same as the principles between people. “If you give your word, you keep to it.”

Paulo Portas recalled a statement made by Queen Victoria, which Margaret Thatcher also used, which sums up the attitude of a brave and valiant nation faced with difficulties: “Failure is not an option!”