By Sylvia B. Zarate and Cesar Marino
CALI, Colombia, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Business leaders in the Pacific Alliance (AP) see increasing trade with Asia as the main goal of the four-member Latin American trade bloc.
At a business forum that took place Friday on the sidelines of the AP's 12th summit meeting in Cali, Colombia, business leaders from Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia took part in a panel discussion entitled "the Pacific Alliance as a springboard to get closer to the Asia Pacific."
All agreed the bloc's major challenge is to bolster trade ties with the Asian market.
"This alliance was created so these countries could take advantage of the opportunities of bordering on the Pacific Ocean, where the most developed economies are, and also those with the highest growth in the world," said Alfredo Moreno, president of the Chilean chapter of the AP business council (CEAP) and also president of the council of the Production and Trade Confederation (CPC).
"I think that in the case of our countries, which are smaller, we can seize the opportunities not just individually, but as a group," Moreno told Xinhua.
Of the four member states, Chile has the strongest ties to the Asia Pacific region, especially China, with which it has also developed strong political connections, said Moreno.
"Chile and China have had a very close relationship for many years. In addition, Chile has had a free trade agreement in effect for several years now, which helps make China Chile's leading trade partner. China is by far Chile's largest exporting country in the Asia Pacific region, and similarly, almost half of what we import comes from China. Our main export product, which is copper, goes to China," said Moreno.
According to Moreno, this summit is especially significant, as the leaders of the AP countries are set to announce a new type of associate state status that entails a free trade agreement (FTA) and association agreement between the AP countries and the Asian countries.
"Chile has a free trade agreement with many Asia Pacific countries, but it makes a big difference if one can now also have an FTA as a bloc, because it allows a product that is made partly in Chile, partly in Colombia, partly in Peru and partly in Mexico, to enter those markets that have associate state status," said Moreno.
Miguel Moreno, president of Colombian food processing conglomerate Grupo Nutresa, said his company put in place strategies to win a share of the Asian market decades ago.
"At Grupo Nutresa, we view the Asian market with great interest. We have been taking part in the market, through exports and direct investment, for more than 50 years, specifically in China," said Moreno.
Chinese consumers may be familiar with the company's Colcafe coffee brand, which sells cappuccino mixes and three-in-one coffee blends made of coffee, sugar and cream.
"We are working on brand development," said Moreno, adding "we have our distributor and a local purchasing office that also provides commercial support."
Valentin Diez, president of the Mexico chapter of CEAP and the Mexican Business Council of Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology (COMCE), says his country's ties with Asia have also been strengthened.
"I think what we have to keep in mind is diversification, and I believe the Asia Pacific represents a great opportunity for all of us," said Diez.
Chile's Moreno underscored the importance of the summit in spurring development and regional integration, with the bloc representing the world's eighth-largest economy and 35 percent of Latin America's gross domestic product.
"It is very important. It gives (the bloc) dynamism, recognition and encourages all the governments and private enterprises to participate," said Moreno.
More than 500 CEOs from AP member states attended the panel discussion.