Studies 12 March, 2018

Mexico and Brazil’s Approach Towards the GCC Countries: An Assessment of Economic Diplomacy


Alejandra Galindo Marines

Alejandra Galindo Marines is a Professor in the Department of Social Science at Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico. She specializes in Middle East Politics, with a special focus on Saudi Arabia. Professor Galindo is a member of the Mexican National Research System. She has conducted field research in Yemen, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Her research interests include issues on gender and citizenship and international relations of the Gulf, particularly Gulf-Latin America relations. Her publications include The Gulf and Latin America: An Assessment of Expectations and Challenges (2013) and The Gulf and Latin America: Exploring New Avenues of Exchange (2016), both published by the Gulf Research Center.​


Although geographically distant, Latin America and the Gulf countries have in the past 15 years experienced a remarkable increase in commercial exchange, with a growth rate of 3.26% between 1995-1999 rising to 13.21% between 2000 and 2015. If we take the GCC countries and Latin America alone, then we can see an enhanced pattern of increase from the 1990s jumping from 6.32% to 15.46% between 2000 and 2015. After the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the fall of prices in oil and commodities, the growth rate over the last five years has stood at 7.9%, compared to the 2000-2008 period which was almost at 24%.

The new international context that emerged after the 9/11 attacks, and after that the 2008-9 financial crisis, provided the setting by which the actors started to look beyond traditional partners and allies, unfolding a renewed interest between the two regions. The first meeting between the Arab League States and South America (ASPA) in 2005 provided the needed boost to enhance this new impetus for closer relations. In the last five years, for instance, the exchange of embassies has included, among others, the opening of the United Arab Emirates' embassy in the Dominican Republic in 2016 and in Cuba in 2015, the mutual opening of embassies in Qatar and Mexico in 2015, and the opening of Saudi Arabia's embassy in Peru in 2014.

Focusing on Mexico and Brazil, the two biggest economies in the region, this study examines the type of interests redrawing the links between these two regions. Through the prism of economic diplomacy, it examines whether these governments are fulfilling their economic and/or political objectives. Author Maike Okano–Heijmans describes economic diplomacy as "the use of political means as leverage in international negotiations, with the aim of enhancing national economic prosperity and the use of economic leverage to increase the political stability of the nation". Economic diplomacy encompasses commercial trade and financial types of diplomacy, all of which are interlinked. Furthermore, "its aim is to influence decisions on cross-border economic activities pursued by governments and non-state actors (such as multinational enterprises and NGOs) and therefore involves activities of governments and their networks".

Okano-Heijmans distinguishes four key elements of economic diplomacy: the first element, the context, refers to when the tools are the instruments used; the theatres are where economic diplomacy is taking place; and the process implies the strategies to certain ends (which instruments are used and if they attain the desired effect) and the actors' interest in performing this type of diplomacy. These frameworks help us understand why and how economic diplomacy is pursued by the states and other actors to obtain economic and/or political gains.

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