Arab-Latin American trade hailed
31 Mar 09 | al Jazeera
Latin American leaders have emphasised the importance of economic and political ties with the Arab world in a summit meeting with their Arab counterparts in Qatar.
The meeting, the second Arab-Latin American summit, on Tuesday in Doha, the Qatari capital, followed the conclusion of the Arab League conference in the city.
Though geographically distant, the two blocs are looking to step up trade and investment flows and the meeting reflects Latin America’s changing priorities – with left-of-centre governments dominating the region, there has been a move away from the US and a push to embrace a multipolar world.
Opening the conference, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, said: “We feel there are a lot of similarities between South America and the Arab world. Both of us also hope for a better future for our populations and we face many of the same challenges.”
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil, said: “The wealth of the Arab world is now becoming a factor of development … and you have to protect it.
It was the Brazilian leader who first proposed the idea of the Arab-Latin American meeting during a visit to the Middle East in 2003.
“In a few days, the G20 will try to find a solution to confront an unprecedented financial crisis … they want to know if we are able to come up with genuine ideas that would prevent our countries from social and political disturbances,” Lula said.
“It is a unique opportunity for us to introduce concrete ideas for a better global governance.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister said direct contact between South America and the Arab world was very important for both sides.
“I think we are living in a globalised world but in a way it was a globalised world of sorts, in which some countries had relations with the centres of world powers and not among or between themselves.
“One of the factors that made the [economic] crisis less serious in Brazil is that we have very diversified trade. With the Arab world it [trade] went from 8 billion to 20 billion dollars in three or four years,” said Amorim.
“More democratic governing”
The two regions each include a major oil producer, with Saudi Arabia and Venezuela both among the world’s top oil exporters.
Trade between the two blocs has almost tripled since the first summit in Brasilia in 2005.
Arab diplomats said the summit will consider creating a joint mechanism of financial co-operation to reduce the impact of the global economic crisis.
Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean president, said: “This is the time for a global response to the financial crisis. We hope there is fast co-ordination of the G20 meeting.
“We must call on the Internationl Monetary Fund for more democratic governing and to give more funds to the developing banks to be more effective tools to stop the crisis in the countries that most need it.”
Regional issues, such as the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur facing Omar al-Beshir, the Sudanese president, were also raised by South American leaders.
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president asked: “Why don’t they order the arrest of [former US president George W.] Bush, why don’t they order the arrest of the Israeli President [Shimon Peres]?”.
During Israel’s 22-day war on the Palestinian territory of Gaza at the beginning of the year, Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador and a wave of support for the Palestinians swept across Latin America.
The Palestinian Authority has said it will open a diplomatic representative office in Caracas next month.
But some southern American leaders refused to show soldiarity with al Bashir. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, walked out of the official photo- op in protest.
Kirchner is reportedly seeking support from Arab countries in a renewed dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands.
Argentina continues to claim the Falklands, 27 years after the two countries went to war over the South Atlantic islands.