Gulf-Latin America business ties focus on food security, high-tech

Misconceptions about the people in each region are the biggest obstacle to strong business ties, but encouraging visits can help overcome this.

Persian Gulf at Night from ISS, 2020. (photo credit: NASA/PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Persian Gulf at Night from ISS, 2020.
(photo credit: NASA/PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Arab Gulf and Latin America are geographically far from each other, and historically, the connection between them has not been particularly significant. But in recent years, there has been a growing trend of closer ties between the Arab Gulf countries and Latin America. This trend has been driven by several factors, including increasing economic and trade ties, as well as growing political and diplomatic cooperation. The trend is expected to continue in the coming years, as both regions look to expand their global partnerships and build closer ties.

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Food security is a key area of partnership between the regions. Latin American agriculture plays a crucial role in ensuring food security for the Arab Gulf states. The Gulf countries are heavily dependent on imported food to meet the needs of their rapidly growing populations, and Latin America is a key source of these imports. For example, Brazil and Argentina are among the top suppliers of meat and grains to the Gulf region. In addition, Latin American countries have become important partners in the development of agricultural infrastructure and technology in the Gulf, helping to increase food production and improve food security in the region. As the demand for food in the Gulf continues to grow, the importance of Latin American agriculture is expected to continue to increase.

The Arab Gulf states and Latin America also have been exploring ways to strengthen their partnerships in the high-tech industry. One key area of potential collaboration is in startups and innovation. Latin America is currently experiencing a startup boom, with many young entrepreneurs launching innovative new companies. One challenge is access to funding, and the Gulf states could potentially play a role in helping to finance these companies. For example, Gulf investors could provide the necessary capital for Latin American startups to grow and expand, helping to drive innovation and economic development in both regions. In return, the Gulf states could benefit from access to new technologies and innovative business models, helping to drive their own economic growth and development.

Astrid Chedid is the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Annual Investment Meeting in the United Arab Emirates. She told The Media Line that, despite their physical distance from each other, Latin America and the Gulf have been building business bridges particularly since Dubai hosted Expo 2020 between October 2021 and March 2022. The World Expo helped business leaders from both regions meet, overcome cultural differences, learn about each other’s needs, and identify areas in which cooperation could be mutually beneficial.

World Expos, also known as World’s Fairs, are international exhibitions that bring together countries from around the world to showcase their achievements and culture. World Expos are held every five years and are organized by the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), a Paris-based organization that oversees the planning and execution of these events. World Expos are known for their large-scale exhibitions, featuring pavilions from participating countries, as well as live performances, cultural events, and other attractions. These events attract tens of millions of visitors from across the globe. They are an opportunity for countries to showcase their achievements and strengths to the world, and for visitors to learn about different cultures and experiences, network with each other, and enhance their business and cultural connections. The expos are “dedicated to finding solutions to pressing challenges of our time by offering a journey inside a universal theme through engaging ad immersive activities,” according to the BIE.

General overall view of the Doha downtown city center skyline and cityscape and the Doha Bay, Doha, Qatar, Sep 26, 2019. (credit: KIRBY LEE-USA TODAY SPORTS)General overall view of the Doha downtown city center skyline and cityscape and the Doha Bay, Doha, Qatar, Sep 26, 2019. (credit: KIRBY LEE-USA TODAY SPORTS)

Significance of technology and agriculture industry

“High net worth individuals who have not embarked yet on the investor’s path [are abundant in the Middle East]. We are trying to connect those people with Latin American innovators and make the match.”

Astrid Chedid, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Annual Investment Meeting

Chedid said that business ties between the Gulf and Latin America, which were boosted during Expo 2020, are currently centered on two main domains: agri-food products and the tech industry.

Food security is a particularly acute concern in the Gulf countries, which are mostly arid and lack sufficient fertile soil to grow large amounts of food, Chedid says.

But Latin America, she believes, has the potential to play a major role in ameliorating the Gulf’s food insecurity. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE have already established deals with several Latin American countries to supply food staples such as wheat. “Despite the distance, we [in Latin America] have the optimal land, and the hard-working people to help solve this problem,” she says.

The Gulf’s interest in Latin American food does not stop with basic staples. “There is a great appetite in the Gulf for Latin agri-food products such as avocado, berries, and mangos. All these delicious fruits that are readily available in Latin America are a luxury in the Gulf,” she explains.

Regarding the rapidly developing high-tech domain, Chedid says that currently, Latin America is experiencing a “startup boom,” adding that there are several unicorns – startups valued at over $1 billion dollars – emerging from the region, and people in the Gulf are looking to support this phenomenon. “It is only a matter of building the bridges,” she says, adding that there are many opportunities and that the Gulf countries are eager to provide access for these Latin American innovators into their markets.

“High net worth individuals who have not embarked yet on the investor’s path” are abundant in the Middle East, Chedid says. “We are trying to connect those people with Latin American innovators and make the match,” she adds.

However, she notes that there are some challenges that both sides must overcome to build successful business relationships.

The most relevant obstacles, according to Chedid, are the misconceptions people may have about one another. “We need to stop believing everything that we see on TV and the internet,” says, pointing to broad generalizations and harmful stereotypes – Latin Americans are all drug dealers, Middle Easterners are all terrorists – that destroy the trust so necessary for healthy business ties. If we choose to generalize, she says, “it won’t be possible to do business.”

Chedid adds that Latin American women may fear they will be unable to do business in the Gulf. She argues, however, that based on her own personal experience, it is possible to overcome this obstacle by understanding the Gulf’s culture and observing accepted norms of behavior.

“For instance, if a man does not extend his hand to me, I do not get offended because I know that this is a man who only touches his wife,” she says.

It is possible, Chedid says, for women to succeed in powerful positions in the Gulf. Examples include a number of female ministers, businesswomen, and scientists in the UAE.

The UAE, she says, is very open to foreign business. “They have even issued many new types of visas designed for people who want to bring their businesses to the country. There are also facilities for digital nomads,” she says.

The Gulf countries’ strategy for overcoming misconceptions about the region is simply to encourage visitors. Hosting Expo 2020 in the UAE and the World Cup in Qatar are examples of this strategy. “Many people who are there [at the World Cup] will return with a different perspective on the country than they previously had,” she notes.