Updated 2 weeks, 2 days ago

LatAm countries yearn for expansion of Asia-Pacific free-trade zone

The Latin American country of Chile is to hold a two-day meeting on Asia-Pacific economic integration starting on Tuesday, and has invited countries such as China, South Korea and Colombia to attend.

In face of the United States withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Chile's initiative reflects Latin American countries' desire to expand the free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region.

SEEKING PARTNERS IN ASIA-PACIFIC

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order three days after taking office on Jan. 23, officially withdrawing from the TPP. His behavior has put countries which have signed the treaty in a dilemma, including Latin American countries such as Chile, Peru and Mexico.

For a long time, the economic development of Latin American countries has been heavily dependent on North America, especially the United States. Since taking office, Trump has issued a series of conservative policies on immigration, trade, economy, energy, foreign affairs and others, turning the steering wheel inward.

With their economies seriously impacted by Trump's policies, Latin American countries turn their eyes toward the Asia-Pacific region, hoping to enhance cooperation with Asia-Pacific nations including China, so as to invigorate the economic development in Latin America.

During an interview with Xinhua on March 8, Chile's ex-president Ricardo Lagos said that amid increasing uncertainties in the international environment, Latin American countries should strengthen communication with the Asia-Pacific region and make full use of free trade.

"If TPP can't take effect, the meeting (in Chile) should seriously discuss the free trade proposals within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)," he said.

Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said on Sunday that Chile hoped to send a message of maintaining a pluralistic approach to free trade in the upcoming meeting on Asia-Pacific economic integration.

Munoz said that nowadays numerous initiatives were being carried out, such as the TPP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP), and the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

"We work with those who are ready for openness and integration," he said.

WIN-WIN ECONOMIC CIRCLE IN ASIA-PACIFIC

According to the World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October 2016, the United States was still the largest economy in the world, accounting for 24.7 percent of the global GDP.

China and Japan ranked the second and the third respectively, while South Korea and Australia also edged into the world's top 15 economies.

The four countries, all located in the Asia-Pacific economic circle, accounted for a quarter of the global GDP.

Analysts said in the context of a lackluster growth and increasing pressure from world economic downturn, the economic development in the region has to a large extent benefited from the building of a free trade circle in the Asia-Pacific.

Free trade agreements (FTAs) of different sizes have been signed among countries and regional organizations such as China, Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, India and Australia, with various free trade areas co-existing and interwoven with one another.

In the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, cooperation and win-win results, the free trade areas between China and other countries or groups in the region, like Australia, South Korea and ASEAN, have withstood the pressure from global economic downturn and boosted the region's growth through expanding and updating those FTAs.

Taking the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) as an example, it is clear that the landmark deal, which was put into effect in December 2015, has been helping to underpin the bilateral relations amid increasing uncertainties in the world.

"China is Australia's largest trading partner and the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement will play an important role in diversifying our bilateral trade and investment, bringing substantial benefits to both countries," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Xinhua.

"Greater economic cooperation between our two countries will deepen political and other ties and create a stronger platform for future strategic and security cooperation," he said.

Bai Ming, a researcher with an institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said the ChAFTA's dialogue mechanism has helped the two sides solve problems in the implementation of the agreement and create sound conditions for win-win results and its further upgrade.

It will better benefit the two economies and peoples, Bai said.

GREATER CROSS-REGION ECONOMIC INTEGRATION

The remarkable achievements of the China-Australia free trade area have attracted world attention.

Along the eastern coasts of the Pacific Ocean, some Latin American countries, including Chile and Peru, as well as regional blocs such as the Pacific Alliance, have frequently expressed willingness to expand their free trade zone with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

At present, the integration processes in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region have a multi-level, multi-channel feature.

Latin America's resources complement the market of the Asia-Pacific region, providing a strong impetus for both sides to strengthen economic cooperation and promote their integration processes.

As of March 2016, seven Latin American countries and economies had forged bilateral free trade agreements with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and a total of 19 free trade agreements had entered into effect.

In a press conference on March 9, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski expressed the eagerness of Latin America's trade bloc to promote regional economic growth and expand the free-trade zone with Asia-Pacific countries.

The economic development in Latin America is facing mounting pressure amid rising global uncertainties, said Kuczynski.

To promote their economic growth, members of the Pacific Alliance need to continue seeking new possibilities to sign free trade agreements with Asia-Pacific nations, Kuczynski said.

"We (Peru) have a free-trade agreement with China, and we have separate agreements with South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Singapore. We will try to broaden this with an effort through the Alliance," said the president.

Established in 2012, the Pacific Alliance, which groups Peru, Mexico, Colombia and Chile, is a regional political and economic integration initiative in Latin America.

Meanwhile, the four finance ministers from the Pacific Alliance member states later confirmed their desire in a meeting to expand trade with Asia-Pacific countries with an aim to promote the further integration of the trans-Pacific regional economies.

The Asia-Pacific is among the fastest-growing regions in the world, Peruvian Finance Minister Alfredo Thorne said, adding that the Pacific Alliance states could, as a whole, carry out free trade negotiations with Asia-Pacific countries.