Central America is widely known for its conflicts and poverty of the region, as well as exclusion. The Central American Integration System (SICA) was established in 1991 as the restored organizational structure for Regional Integration in Central America. According to Bornemann-Martínez et al. (2017), SICA is a “relevant and complex tool” for developing and enforcing the regional initiatives corresponding to national policies (p. 86). The economic and political framework of the Central American States is rooted in the initial Organization of Central American States (ODECA) created in 1951, and the Central American Common Market set up in 1960.
SICA’s integration process is based on a fundamental goal of reuniting and cultivating the states of Central America and the Dominican Republic as a territory of peace, liberty, democratic society, and prosperous development. It is a regional organization that includes eight states, eight regional observers, and ten extra-regional observers (Heath-Brown, 2015). The primary goal of the Central American Integration System is to implement the integration of Central America for the Isthmus to become a “region of peace, freedom, democracy, and development” (Purposes of SICA, n. d.). With that said, this research examines the key strategic aspects of SICA and the reasons why the UAE should join as a non-regional observer state.
The Analysis of SICA
The Central American Integration System was created during the early 1990s with the Tegucigalpa Protocol’s endorsement of the Charter of the Organization of Central American States (ODECA). The structure represents the political and institutional context for the successful integration process. More specifically, the integration principle and idea suggested in the Tegucigalpa Protocol and embodied by SICA considers several multiple areas of human activity, which reinforce each other while facilitating joining forces. Such a systemic approach reconfirmed by the Sustainable Development Alliance encompasses four critical pillars, including political, social-cultural, and economic facets, as well as the sustainable management of natural resources.
SICA consists of eight full members, such as Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, in the role of the Associate Member. The organization also includes fourteen observes states: The United States, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru (as regional observers), and Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia (as non-regional observers) (Heath-Brown, 2015).
The status of an observes state is approved by SICA’s apex decision-making body and supported by the formal agreements. While examining the political organization SICA, it is also essential to understand the primary reason for the integration process and underlying aspects that defined the development of the structure. The integration is vital for Central America and the Dominican Republic because of the considerably decreased demography, land, and economies, which continually shape these nations’ development model and their international ties.
Furthermore, some of the core challenges that harm the SICA member states cannot be addressed solely from national perspectives. The main issues cover the struggle against poverty and inequality, “appropriate insertion in the political and economic extra-regional atmosphere, natural resources protection, disaster management and prevention, and the fight against organized crime and security” (Villagrán, 2019, p. 8). Therefore, the determined integration revealed its positive contribution to resolving the conflicts in the target region, including the civil wars of the 1980s. The requirements of involvement for integration are not directly specified, meaning that the SICA members are enabled to choose their actions in the process.
The Benefits and Advantages for Extra-regional Actors
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a strong political actor in the international arena with a stable political situation. However, the Emirates remains at the center of the diplomatic conflict between a number of Arab states. It is also important to note that the UAE endorsed a well-balanced foreign policy (Ulrichsen, 2017). It is based upon dialogue, respect of international treaties, commitment to the United Nations Charter, non-interference of other nations’ domestic affairs, and the resolution of disagreements in a peaceful manner. Therefore, one of the primary backbones of the UAE’s external policy implies establishing cooperation-based ties with all countries around the globe.
With that said, the benefits provided by SICA refer to the agreements and conventions, which are based on reviving regional peace. SICA’s fundamental goal implies strengthening regional understanding to avoid future disputes (Purposes of SICA, n. d.).
In addition, the agreements and treaties in SICA address the one-dimensional nature of the former process stage and determine an integration model with political, economic, environmental, and cultural dimensions. Most importantly, the connection between the Central American Integration System members and non-regional states are based upon sustainable development, integration with openness, human development, and human safety. Taking into account the experience of the European Union, some of the core benefits of the integration process of SICA encompass a massive market, the harmonization of standards and regulations, solidarity through structural and cohesion policies, and an institutional framework.
The Ways of Cooperation with SICA
The substantial development support considerably enhanced the stature of the United Arab Emirates among the recipient states. By joining the SICA as a Western Asian non-regional observer state and formalizing the adhesion, the UAE will be able to facilitate the strengthening of political relations of friendship and cooperation with the regional body (Idagu et al., 2017). There are particular cooperation ways and reasons why the Emirates should communicate its interest to support the Central American integration process. In its capacity as a non-regional observer state, the UAE will participate in the Meeting of Presidents and the Council of Ministers on different concerns, specifically the ones regarding integration and cooperation for long-term economic, technological, scientific, environmental, and human development in the region.
The decision and process of becoming an extra-regional observer state in SICA will help the country reinforce its commitment to the region of Central America and enable the UAE to cooperate more closely with SICA and member states. The UAE will have a chance to expand its foreign policy framework and build closer ties with the SICA Secretariat, based in San Salvador (Idagu et al., 2017). The Asian non-regional actor will help support the Central American Security Strategy governed by SICA in acknowledging the security challenges that interfere with the region by providing funding and assistance to Central American countries. The UAE will be involved in combatting violence and organized crime by sharing its expertise and, as an option, promoting training for police forces and other justice and security officials.
The successful integration process of the states goes far beyond benefitting from other countries and state partners in terms of economic, political, regional, educational, and global partnership advantages. The key of the proper integration between the UAE and the Central American states provides for the Emirates to show the capacity to provide necessary guidance and support for Central America as a leading and one of the wealthiest countries globally. Therefore, the future plans and growth strategies imposed by the United Arab Emirates should comply with SICA members’ regional strategic objectives for efficient collaboration and mutual benefit and support.
The UAE Future Strategies
The UAE’s region is characterized as one of the fastest-growing economies globally, given that it has developed future long-term strategies up until 2117. To be more specific, the UAE pursues the Emirates blockchain strategy in 2021 and the national strategy for higher education in 2030.
In 2031, the Emirates’ plans are focused on the national advanced sciences agenda, national cybersecurity strategy, artificial intelligence strategy, innovation strategy, soft power strategy, the UAE 4th industrial revolution strategy, and green economy initiative. The next year’s strategies imply the UAE water security strategy in 2036, energy strategy in 2050, national food strategy in 2051, and the UAE Mars strategy in 2117. Moreover, the country launched the UAE Centennial Plan 2071, a long-term, broad-vision strategy that serves as a groundwork for sustained government work.
The cornerstones of such a long-term future strategic perspective of the Emirates are the future-oriented government, excellent education, a diversified knowledge economy, and a happy and cohesive society (UAE Centennial 2071, 2020). Hence, the potential integration with SICA member-states will help the Emirates achieve future long-term plans with confidence regarding enforcing the country’s reputation by successfully managing international cooperation.
Furthermore, SICA integration will promote diversified imports and exports by relying less on oil production. By investing in education with the help of advanced technology, the UAE can considerably improve the educational system in Central America, specifically in the poorest regions. The Emirati values and ethical principles for the future generations are based on increased productivity of the national economy and enhanced society’s cohesion, which can be attained by the continuous and future-oriented collaboration with other countries that require assistance and can share their benefits that the UAE lacks.
Food and Water Security
Food and water security are central axes of the UAE’s strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. The country aims to establish the “security of the future” by ensuring water and food security by an integrated and sustainable water and food security system. In addition, the future strategy involves the employment of bioengineering sciences and advanced technology for renewable energy. According to the National Media Council (2019), Emirates’ goal is to become the world’s leader in the Global Food Security Index by 2051 and among the top 10 countries by 2021. The food security strategy will be guaranteed by technology-based production and food supply, promoting international trade partnerships (specifically with SICA members), implementing policies to facilitate nutritional intake, and decreasing food loss and waste. Concerning water security plans, the UAE aims to reduce the aggregate demand for water resources by 21 percent by 2036 and enhance the national water storage capacity for up to two days.
Several Central American business sectors significantly progress in the food and agriculture sector. As such, a private-sector partner of the UAE Government in securing essential food staples is targeted at investments in coffee and sugar plantations in Central and even Latin America. Coffee and sugar cane are considered the strategic items highly needed by the UAE. The expansion of the Emirates’ multinational agribusinesses provided the impetus by the growing need of the UAE’s government to protect valuable supplies of food goods. The United Arab Emirates increased its reliance on food imports, given that the water scarcity prevents from producing sufficient amount of food resources domestically for the rapidly growing population (National Media Council, 2019). The integration process with SICA can enhance the UAE’s target of providing strategic reserves of commodities, including wheat, rice, flour, sugar, and coffee, to protect the country from risks of fluctuation in prices or bad weather.
Global Warming and Sustainability
The national climate change plan of the UAE 2017–2050 serves as a crucial guideline to strengthen actions for climate mitigation across the country. SICA region is highly vulnerable to the severe consequences of natural disasters and climate change, including global warming. The national public investment systems guidelines can encourage sustainable and complete solutions for the Central American states in terms of the SICA integration process.
This implies the solutions, such as gray and green infrastructures and other nature-based frameworks, which revive ecosystems, eliminate disaster risks, and facilitate sustainable adaptation to climate change (ECLAC, 2020). Therefore, the establishment and assessment of public investment projects would considerably impact the hazard prevention and addressing climate change that ensures the sustainability of such projects.
The national initiatives of the UAE are based on controlling emissions, cultivation technologies, reducing flaring of natural gas, increasing energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, renewable energy, clean fossil fuels, and launching the Masdar initiatives.
The Emirates foreign aid policy will assist in the global efforts for sustainable development (National Media Council, 2019). The UAE’s assistance programs aim to contribute to reaching the sustainable development goals of the countries with an emphasis on the central objectives. Thus, by building a strong partnership with SICA members, the UAE will contribute to natural disasters and damage eradication, as well as the response to climate change. By implementing the sustainable approach to climate change within the public investment projects along with other countries, the UAE will reinforce the services provided to the population of the SICA members.
The issue of women empowerment both in the United Arab Emirates and Central America is a relatively recent problem addressed by the two regions. However, it is important to note that women’s general position in a particular society is also influenced by the political situation and national economic development. Since the establishment of the General Women’s Union in 1975, the UAE has implemented initiatives to support women in economic terms. Currently, Emirati women hold 66 % of government jobs, 30 % of which are senior leadership positions. Central America also faces critical challenges in treating women’s empowerment strategies (World Bank Group, 2018).
However, some countries, such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, adopted vital steps towards enhanced inclusion of women and improved social and economic outcomes of the women.
Moreover, eradicating violence towards women in Central America and the UAE is crucial to the overall states’ security. In terms of the SICA integration process, the Central American states can raise the importance of women empowerment, referring to the national strategy for empowering Emirati women 2015-2021. The Central American regional body can be actively involved in developing this process by engaging both federal and local government entities, private institutions, and civil society organizations. Women’s leadership must be acknowledged within the national, regional, and international areas (National Media Council, 2019). The united forces of the UAE and SICA members’ initiatives towards women empowerment should be targeted at the creation of a legal and institutional framework supportive of women. This needs to comply with the countries’ commitment to international charters and treaties regarding the global political nature of the integration process.
Trade and Commerce
Given the location of SICA key members, the organization has a powerful tool for significantly advancing international trade, which is the Panama Canal. It is a valuable source for new trade opportunities, especially with the UAE, which might potentially become a new trade partner. The UAE, in turn, serves as the hub of Panama’s Middle East strategic objectives. The trade and commerce aspects are inherently linked to the food factors, along with imports and exports of the countries. To enhance the trade links between the parties involved in SICA, the Central American countries and the UAE should sign trade, investment, and double taxation agreements for successful and mutual economic collaboration.
The two sides should develop the enhanced diplomatic missions and establish more direct flights to improve international communications and future business contacts. Despite the considerable difference in SICA members’ economic level and the UAE, this step is particularly critical for the Emirates, regardless of its leading position. The country lacks the essential resources, including “food, metals, pearls, semi-precious stones, mechanical and electrical machinery, and cars” (National Media Council, 2019, p. 24). The UAE is the most critical growth market, embodying 27 percent of exports from the Gulf Cooperation Council to Central and Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Collaboration with SICA Members regarding EXPO2020
Expo 2020 is the World Expo planned to be hosted in Dubai, the UAE; however, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Expo 2020 is a platform to promote creativity, innovation, and international collaboration based on a sustainable impact (National Media Council, 2019). Concerning the SICA integration process, Expo 2020 Dubai will present the opportunity for the Central American states to build a strong partnership with the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).
This partnership will be grounded in food and agriculture collaboration, culture, sports, sustainable energy, and tourism. Most importantly, Expo 2020 is about the power to shape the future, mobility, and sustainability, as a joint point of the UAE and potential SICA membership. Summing up, the political changes in Central America can be maintained by the regional stakeholders by determining the core ideological positioning of governments. The strategic economic inclusion from non-state actors will provide a more secure and integrated future for both regions.
Potential Disadvantages of Joining SICA
In terms of the intergovernmental exercise, the primary strategic approach implemented by SICA aims to address the conceptual and institutional challenges of fragmentation, over-expansion, and executive dominance. One of the central weakest points of SICA’s integration process is the common problem of ensuring that the national societies adapt to such a critical process, understand, and get actively engaged in the global arena’s organizational activity.
The critical negative aspects, such as insufficient information, the lack of appropriate participation mechanisms, and the inadequately visible benefits of the integration process for the population, facilitated the organization’s unstable and weak position. Thus, the revival of the regional integration process in Central America needs political impetus (Villagrán, 2019). Such as political input requires the raised awareness among the civil society concerning the social, economic, and sustainable development advantages enabled by integration.
Some of the potential disadvantages for the United Arab Emirates in terms of joining SICA indicate a substantial degree of confusion within a legislative and political framework of the integration process. The organization also makes unilateral decisions occasionally, which contradicts the Central American agreements and indicates the ineptness to comply with the accepted agreements (Villagrán, 2019). The regional institutional structure of SICA needs to be reformed in order to address the issues, including the dissemination of institutions that should be rationalized. In addition, the institutional system of SICA needs an automatic source or means for proper funding. In general terms, one can assume that the Central American integration process is in the middle of an intergovernmental and a community structure.
The power of regional integration is mainly defined by obtaining the broadest participation of member states in the regional institutions and active involvement of the key non-regional actors in the process. As a strong non-regional observer state, the United Arab Emirates will have a direct influence in shaping the Central American approach to regionalism. Since the early experience of SICA’s organizational functioning, the regional arrangements of Central America were, for the most part, dependent on financial funding and intervention of stronger extra-regional actors.
Therefore, it is crucial to adopt a proper strategy and ways of cooperation with SICA to attain the position on each regional arrangement as a catalyst for success. To conclude, regional integration is an effective vehicle for facilitating sustainable development in the Central American region and should remain supported by continuous international co-operation.
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