The Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA) is a
mechanism for South-South cooperation and policy coordination in multilateral forums. Brazil proposed its creation in 2003, with the aim of bringing political leaders and civil societies of South American countries and the member countries of the League of Arab States closer together and promoting diplomatic coordination on issues of common interest.
The First ASPA Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Brasilia, on May 10th and 11th 2005, marked the formal organization of ASPA, which is composed of 34 countries – 12 from South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela) and the 22 Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Qatar, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia). The First Summit also recognized the integration organizations from both regions – the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) – as ASPA members.
The Second ASPA Summit was held in Doha, Qatar, on March 31th 2009. Its main outcome was the consolidation of the mechanism's structure – consisting of the Summits of Heads of State and Government - held every three years -, the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Council of High Officials. The implementation of South-South cooperation initiatives agreed at each Summit is the responsibility of the Sectorial Committees established in the following areas:
- Science and Technology (with two Sub-Committees: Agricultural Cooperation and Energy);
- Environment issues (with a Sub-Committee on Combating Desertification);
- Culture and Education:
- Economy; and
- Social Issues.
Two Regional Coordinators were also designated, responsible for assuring the functioning of the mechanism, including the arrangement of regular meetings as well as the implementation of the calendar of activities. On the Arab side, the function of regional coordination has been performed by the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States (LAS). In South America, by consensus of the countries in the region, this role is taken on by Brazil and provides for its transfer to UNASUR.
The Third ASPA Summit, held in Lima, Peru, on October 2nd 2012, was the first meeting between the representatives of the two regions after the Arab Spring uprising and revealed the level of consolidation reached by ASPA, given the significant participation of the business sector.
Special attention has been given to cultural cooperation, in order to promote mutual understanding between the two regions. In South America, activities in this area have been coordinated by the Library and Centre of South American and Arab Research (BibliASPA), headquartered in São Paulo. Highlights among the cooperation initiatives include bilingual publications (Portuguese and/or Spanish and Arabic) of great literary works, Arabic language and calligraphy courses offered in Brazil and Argentina (to be extended to other South American countries) and the organization of film festivals. Since 2010, BibliASPA holds the South American Festival of Arab Culture every year in March. This event includes various artistic and cultural manifestations and takes place simultaneously in several South American cities.
The IV ASPA Summit of Heads of State and Government took place in November 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The meeting, which gathered authorities from the countries of the two regions, endorsed the Riyadh Declaration and the Riyadh Action Plan, which outlines bi-regional cooperation initiatives and expanded the scope of cooperation to include two new areas: media and juridic . On the sidelines of the main meeting, the 4th ASPA Business Forum was held, with broad participation of the two regions.