Ecuador eyeing up Middle East
Latin America's growing trade relations with the Gulf countries shielded it from the worst of the economic recession which pummelled their traditional trading partners, a top official said.
As the newly minted Ecuadorian ambassador to Qatar, with responsibilities for the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Kabalan B. Abisaab is part of the vanguard of these growing ties. The embassy, established at the start of this year, is the region's first.
"Before, all the South American markets looked towards the US economy (and) because of that any crisis that happened to the US (was) immediately reflected on the countries of South America."
But Abisaab said both Ecuador and Latin America had in recent years expanded trade partners and pursued independent, economic policies. And despite the fact that Ecuador's currency was the US dollar, that independence had insulated the country.
"The new strategy of the Government and the presidency ... is to look for new relations and to go to potential and emerging markets, not only the traditional markets (of) America and Europe."
The change in Ecuador, under the navigation of two-term president Rafael Correa, echoed broader changes in Latin America's outlook, Abisaab said.
An example of growing relations between the two regions was the summit between South American and Arab countries, ASPA, established by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2005, he said.
While this was partly a reflection of an increasingly interconnected world, the need to branch out was underscored by the recent economic crisis that left the European and American economies ailing.
"Our relations with America and the North (remain) very solid and strong ... however, logic and common sense pushes us to take a step in opening new and potential markets ... it's wise to always look for new markets."
He said the two blocs could do a lot to work with each other, such as GCC countries investing in production in Latin America.
"While we are seeing a global crisis in Europe and the United States, the Latin American economy is growing on a yearly basis."
Abisaab said the economic growth of Ecuador was six and a half per cent annually, and was expected to hit eight per cent this year, while unemployment was also on the wane.
This, along with cordial relations, made the two regions a good match, he said.
"There was never before a confrontation, economic or political problem or conflict between the Latin American world and the Arab world."
Meanwhile, meetings were going on behind the scenes to ease trade restrictions, with a UAE-Ecuador trade agreement not too far off, Abisaab said.
Abisaab recently inaugurated the Pro-Ecuador Commercial Office in Dubai, aimed at enhancing trade relations between Ecuador and the UAE.
He said the office, opened after the trend of increasing trade between the two countries which grew to reach more than $7 million in 2010, would be the gateway for Ecuadorian trade to the Middle East.
Abisaab said the UAE was a particularly important GCC market "because of the important role the UAE is playing in the world economy, as well as its strategical regional role".
He said the country had a strong economy, political stability and was open to trade.
But Ecuador should be on the UAE's radar for a variety of reasons as well, he said.
The country had high quality agricultural products, bananas, rice, cacao and "the best flowers on the planet"