It's taken me a few years to finally come around to exchange-traded funds, but I'm beginning to learn that, despite small management fees that usually range from 0.25% to 1%, ETFs offer stability and diversity that you just couldn't get unless you had about $1 million to spend.

Today I want to take a closer look at three international ETFs that may be able to provide you a decent amount of protection if the global recovery should come to a screeching halt. It's no coincidence that weakness from China's manufacturing data this week prompted me to look around for three potential recession-beating candidates. Here's what I found...

Market Vectors Vietnam (ASE: VNM)
It's not the first name that comes to mind when you think of strong growth, but Vietnam has shown remarkable growth in light of weakness from Europe and the U.S. While the rest of the world sank into recession, Vietnam's GDP growth never dipped below 3.1% and has hovered predominantly in the 6% range.


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Source: TradingEconomics.com.

Vietnam is highly focused on building up its own infrastructure, including everything from roads and bridges to technological build-outs, and it proved this commitment with a 2009 government-initiated economic stimulus (thus the huge spike in GDP growth in 2009).

The Market Vectors Vietnam ETF has a strong emphasis on oil and natural gas companies with interests in Vietnam, as well as the financial institutions that are funding much of Vietnam's infrastructure projects. With much of its growth internalized, it won't feel a major effect if global growth suddenly slows down. If I could nitpick a bit, it would be that the yield is a paltry 0.9%, but the high-growth aspect of the underlying companies more than makes up for that minor shortcoming.

Market Vectors Africa ETF (ASE: AFK)
This fund has a slightly higher expense ratio than the Vietnam ETF, but keep in mind just how much more diversity you're getting with this ETF.

For starters, this fund invests predominantly in South Africa and Nigeria -- two resource-rich countries -- but it also holds sizable investments offshore in the United Kingdom and domestically in Egypt and Morocco. The fund is heavily swayed toward financials, which make up almost 40% of the weighting, while materials and energy investments comprise a combined 32%.

You might be skeptical and think that because it's an African fund, it must be buying into smaller, lesser-known businesses. In actuality, 60% of all holdings are in companies with a market value greater than $5 billion, and 97% are in companies over $1 billion in value. That's why this ETF yields a much more impressive 3.2%, which more than covers those extra management fees.

Although Egypt's GDP growth has been flat recently, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Africa's recently reported GDP growth rates of 7.4%, 4.8% and 3.2% are comfortable driving growth.

iShares S&P Latin America 40 Index ETF (ASE: ILF)
Not only do I demand diversity within my ETF, but I demand it from my pool of three ETFs. As its name suggests, this fund will invest primarily in Brazil and Mexico, with numerous other Central and South American countries being represented.

Some of this fund's holdings you may actually recognize. Petrobras (NYS: PBR) , Brazil's oil giant that's currently trading at less than nine times forward earnings, comprises more than 10% of the net assets of the fund. Basic metals miner Vale (NYS: VALE) , which is valued at just six times forward earnings, makes up 9% of net assets.

This fund will definitely give you a little more global exposure to a slowdown, but less restrictive trading policies in Colombia and a strong emphasis on consumer staples within this fund provide enough evidence for me to believe it's an outperformer in any global recession. That 2.9% yield doesn't hurt, either!

Foolish roundup
If things are looking sluggish domestically, don't forget that it's OK to think and look outside the box. These three ETFs look like strong long-term growth candidates, and I'm confident they'll outperform if a global recession were to hit.

Disagree with me? Tell me about it in the comments section below and consider adding these ETFs to your free and personalized watchlist.

Just as I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for new ways to make money in any environment, so is our team of highly trained analysts. See what shocking can't-miss truth they feel you should know about your retirement for free!

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He has yet to truly travel internationally. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Petrobras. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that's just the right price: free!

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