Summit aims to expand Asia-Latin America trade

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum opens Saturday in Lima, the Peruvian capital. With the US represented by lame-duck president Bush, Asian nations see the time as ripe to negotiate more access to Latin America's natural resources.


Trade and investment between Latin America and Asia remains an untapped field ready for exploiting by those with determination on either side of the Pacific, business and political chiefs say here.

Asia's interest in more access to Latin America's bountiful natural resources -- metals, minerals, oil, as well as beef, soya and other crops -- for its expanding economies is fueling the trans-Pacific relationship on view at this week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Peruvian capital.

China in particular is looking to snap up raw materials for its economy, which is still projected to grow at an impressive clip despite headwinds from the global downturn.

"China wants to work with the South American and Caribbean countries through a partnership of total, balanced, mutually beneficial cooperation," Chinese President Hu Jintao told Peru's parliament on Thursday ahead of the APEC summit.

The day before, China and Peru announced negotiations on a bilateral free-trade agreement had been successfully completed.

Earlier in the week, Hu was in Costa Rica for talks on another such agreement with that country, and to sign a series of cooperation accords.

He also made a visit to longtime political ally Cuba, to which he donated 4.5 tons of humanitarian aid.

But China is not alone in seeking out opportunities in Latin America and nor is the trade all in one direction.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who arrived in Lima on Thursday, added a Brazil leg to his South America trip to speak with that country's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, about bilateral trade and investment in natural resources and agriculture.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso met Lula in Washington on the sidelines of the G20 summit to discuss similar issues.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meanwhile, dropped in on Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon to discuss cooperation between their two state oil companies.

For Latin America's rising economic star Brazil, exports to Asia amount to 16 billion dollars per year.

Chile, in second place, signed a free trade accord with China two years ago mostly to sell its main resource, copper. It earns 13 billion dollars a year from trade with Asia.

Mexico trails far behind, with four billion dollars in exports each year, reflecting its focus on the US market.

But Peruvian economist Jorge Gonzalez Izquierdo is guarded about how soon this budding relationship will grow into something more substantial.

"Commercial relations between the two regions still remain in an embryonic stage," he said.

Exchanges thus far show "very little diversification," he said, adding that: "The potential can be seen in the long term."

In all, Latin American exports represent only 2.7 percent of all exports to Asia, which buy just seven percent of Latin America's total exports.

In the other direction, Asian goods coming to Latin America, mostly from China, account for 20 percent of the region's imports.

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