Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called here Thursday for the elimination of trade barriers and stressed the need for "clear and stable" rules to promote foreign investment.

Rajoy made his remarks at a business forum organized by the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo State, the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Brazil and the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organizations.

Referring to Brazil as a strategic partner in Latin America, Rajoy said bilateral trade ties were strong but still have a "long way to go" considering the size and weight of their respective economies.

In that regard, Rajoy called for bolstering the exchange of goods and services and said that to do so it is necessary to eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers that persist in Mercosur countries and which the European Commission has denounced.

Moreover, the conservative prime minister said countries must guarantee respect for international trade rules and called for stable and clearly defined legal and economic frameworks.

According to figures presented at the gathering, Spanish-Brazilian bilateral trade touched a record high in 2011, eclipsing the 6-billion-euro ($7.5-billion) mark by a wide margin.

Rajoy also noted that Spanish foreign direct investment in Brazil surged to a level of more than 54.8 billion euros in 2010, accounting for nearly half of all Spanish investment in Latin America that year.

Brazil is the second leading destination country for Spanish investment after Britain.

The prime minister also took the opportunity to invite Brazilian companies looking to expand abroad to consider Spain as an investment destination.

"Spain, despite the current scenario, is a market that offers tremendous business opportunities and that also can serve as a stepping stone to the rest of the European Union, which has sufficient size and a high level of purchasing power," Rajoy said.

The Iberian nation, which has been battered by the bursting of a massive real-estate bubble and has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, is the euro zone's fourth-largest economy. EFE