Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be getting ready for another important heads of government meeting, the Arab South American Summit, the brainchild of President Lula da Silva of Brazil to be held in Lima, Peru on February 3, 2011.   Guyana’s President, Bharrat Jagdeo, current Chairman of the Union of South American States (UNASUR), will be an active participant at this up coming summit of South American and Arab leaders.  President Jagdeo will have yet another opportunity to showcase Guyana internationally and to attract foreign direct investment to his nation.  The Guyanese leader will even have a bigger role to play if a new secretary general of UNASUR is not select by then.

Guyana for its part will step up diplomatic activities with the Middle East with the opening of an embassy in the State of Kuwait, the appointment of a Honourary Consul in Saudi Arabia, and an impending visit by President Jagdeo to Qatar and Saudi Arabia in 2011. This move by Guyana will see the appointed of an ambassador to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states- Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Bahrain. Qatar is the second richest country in the world, Kuwait the 5th, and the UAE 6th   in terms of GDP. 

Having an ambassador in Kuwait will serve Guyana’s interest in the region.  Partnership between Kuwait and Caricom will eventually lead to FDI. Furthermore, with Jamaica due to open an embassy in Kuwait as well, that will bring more attention to Caricom from GCC nations.  As well, there are Guyanese living in the Gulf and on a yearly basis Guyanese do travel to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, linking the two regions closely.  Thus, the cultural bond between Guyana and the Middle East has been solidly established, its now time to initiate economic ties.

Bipartisan politics should be put aside in looking at this new development of Guyana Middle East ties.  The Bharrat Jagdeo government’s push to forge Middle Eastern ties was well thought out. President Jagdeo didn’t embrace the Middle East overnight and the opening of an embassy in Kuwait isn’t a “Jagdeo thing.” Relationship with the Middle East was at an all time low after the demise of the Jagans.  In fact, both the PPP and the PNC under the Jagans and L.F. Burnham were strongly aligned with Algeria, Libya, Palestine and Syria.  Let us not forget that in June 1985 Guyana played host to the 11th United Nations Seminar on the Question of Palestine under the brilliant leadership of Mr. Rashleigh Jackson, former Minister for Foreign Affairs under the PNC regime.

Today, South America - Arab trade has risen to US 21 billion in volume. Chilean fruits and vegetables are readily available in supermarkets in the UAE, Kuwait or Qatar. Brazil frozen food and meats are in demand in the Gulf.  The two regions are today linked by several airlines such as Qatar Airways and Emirates with daily flights.  Gulf nations are currently seeking new sources of mutton and they have converged on South America since Syria and Turkey stop exporting sheep due to local demand.

After the Lula Da Silva initiative of bringing the Arab World and South America together at the first Arab South American Summit in Brazil in 2005, President Jagdeo became more familiar with Arab leaders, the culture and politics of the region. Jagdeo became confident and convinced that Guyana should step up ties with the Middle East.  He toured the region three times and sent his Foreign Minister, Rodrigues-Birkett to Damascus to attend the 36th OIC Foreign Minister Meeting in 2010. It was a clear indication that Guyana was keen to enhance Middle East ties. Georgetown displayed maturity in diplomacy in avoiding the Arab vs. Persian historical animosity by President Jagdeo paying a state visit to Iran.  The Kuwaiti Prime Minister, visited Guyana in 2010, and in 2011 Guyana may witness another historic visit by an Arab head of state.