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From Rio to Riyadh: Arab and Latin America meet

Arab and South American leaders are meeting in the Saudi capital today [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 November, 2015

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A summit held every three years between Arab and South America leaders is being held in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, to bolster ties between the two regions.

Arab leaders and top officials from South America converged on Saudi Arabia Tuesday for a summit aiming to strengthen ties between the geographically distant but economically powerful regions.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon is expected to attend the opening of the Fourth Arab South American Summit, set to begin at 4pm GMT.

Saudi state television showed the arrival of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, whose country belongs to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries along with Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, OPEC's smallest member, was also to attend the summit but it was not immediately clear whether other Latin American heads of state would be present.

Arab presidents who arrived for the summit included Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt and Fuad Masoum of Iraq as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, state media said.

Other delegates include Gulf rulers and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Ahead of the two-day summit, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said windows of cooperation have long existed "but haven't been open enough to take advantage of the capabilities" of both regions.

He said Sudan, for example, has land and water "that could enable it to become the Arab and South American food basket".

Close ties

Arab League: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros,
Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, 
Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Somalia, Sudan, Syria [opposition],
Tunisia, UAE, Yemen

South America: Argentina, Bolivia,
Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador,
Guyana, Paraguay, Peru,
Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela

The summit between the 22 Arab League members and 12 nations from South America will be their fourth meeting since 2005.

Members meet every three years, with the first conference held in Brazil, followed by summits in Qatar and Peru.

The summits have encouraged closer bonds between Latin America and the Arab world.

In 2005, trade between the two groups amounted to $6 billion compared to $30 billion in 2014.

Peru, which hosted the third meeting in 2012, last month became one of 12 Pacific rim countries to seal the world's largest free trade area, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Chile is the only other South American nation included in that deal.

Saudi columnist Abdulateef al-Mulhim, writing in Monday's Arab News, said that together, the Arab and South American regions can help bring prosperity and stability to the world.

"The whole of the continent is moving forward with many visible and modern reforms to their political, economic, social and educational systems," he wrote of South America.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir spoke of a "convergence of positions" between countries of the two regions on many issues and commended the Latin American nations' "positive stance" towards the  Palestinian question.

Jubeir told a pre-summit meeting that the previous three summits tried to develop trade, investment and transport links.

There remain "promising opportunities for collaboration", he said, according to a written text of his Monday speech.

Culture and oil

Two South American nations, Argentina and Brazil, belong to the Group of 20 world's largest economies, as does Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom and its Gulf neighbours pump much of the world's oil, but Brazil and Venezuela are also major producers.

There are also cultural ties, as Chile hosts about 350,000 Palestinian immigrants and their descendants who have settled there over the past century.

Recent immigration has taken more than 2,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their homeland to Brazil since 2011.

The figure is far more than for any other Latin American state, although some pledged open doors and Venezuela's President Maduro said 20,000 were welcome in his country.

However, Maduro is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing rebel forces supported by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

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