The Czech Republic's relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are developing primarily in the political and economic areas. Mutual trade and numbers of visitors from individual countries have been showing a greater or lesser increase in recent years, which is influenced by various factors. The level of diplomatic relations is one of them.
In 1965, the then Czechoslovakia opened a diplomatic mission in Kuwait. For a long time it became the only Gulf state with which we established diplomatic relations. It was not until 1988 that the United Arab Emirates joined it, followed by in 1990 by Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, and finally in 1994 by Saudi Arabia. However, the embassies that appeared in the region on top of Kuwait have been only in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).
Opening the Door
The development of economic relations with individual states is influenced by many factors, which we can make impact on merely to a certain extent. However, in traditional countries, such as the Gulf States, where the state still has a decisive role in the economy and where even today the greatest emphasis is placed on personal contact, diplomacy plays a crucial role in opening the door to Czech economic entities. In addition to economic diplomacy, which is the primary objective of strengthening economic relations, business statistics also have positive impact on costs and benefits, be it official visits at the highest level or resident representation in the country.
Saudi Arabia as an Example
Take Saudi Arabia as an illustrative example. In 1995, at the time of opening our embassy in Riyadh, there were no trade relations, tourism or a contractual base between the Czech Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In 2000, the trade turnover with the then $ 20 million oil monarchy was only $ 36.5 million, less than the current trade volume with disproportionately smaller Bahrain. While the population of Saudi Arabia has since grown by half, the bilateral trade has risen nearly 20 times and three international agreements have been concluded to further facilitate it. The number of short-term visas issued to Saudi visitors last year approached a record of 14,000; the economic benefits of these visits are known mainly to operators of our spa facilities.
Naturally, in the same period, there has been a multiple increase in trade with other GCC states, however, especially in countries without our resident representation, its total volume is still lagging behind its capabilities. There are no contractual documents with Qatar, according to some statistics per capita - the richest country in the world, nor with Oman; the air transport agreement signed in Oman during the visit of the then Senate president Jaroslav Kubera last year has not been ratified yet. Most clearly, our absence on the spot translates into visa statistics.
Opportunities for Czech Entities
In recent years, all Gulf countries have focused on economic diversification, which aims to reduce the economy's dependence on the oil sector. It does so by investing massively in infrastructure development, the education industry, the development of incoming tourism and other sectors. This opens up a unique opportunity for Czech entities to participate in this process and Czech diplomacy can make a significant contribution to it, provided the conditions are created.
The author is the director of the Department of the Middle East and North Africa of the MFA