Foreign affairs and trade ministers from 15 Pacific-rim countries on Wednesday pledged to pursue free trade amid rising protectionism in parts of the world.
Envoys from Asia and Latin America gathered in the seaside resort of Vina del Mar, Chile to discuss the best way forward, following Washington's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
"We are hoping the fruits of our conversations gradually materialise in greater integration and more free trade in our Asia-Pacific region," Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Munoz said at a press conference following the conclusion of the two-day talks.
At a time of global uncertainty, marked by a rise in protectionism in the United States and other countries, the meeting sent "a very significant signal," added Munoz, whose country is a member of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc that spearheaded the event.
Participants will contact each other "for concrete talks" on free-trade initiatives, said Munoz, adding that "each country that signs a free-trade agreement with the Pacific Alliance will become an associate member" of the bloc. The alliance was founded by Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru to promote trade with Asian partners.
China, which has been excluded from the TPP in the rein of the Obama administration to shore up the US trade influence in the region, was invited to attend the gathering.
According to Yin Hengmin, China's envoy for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs, "China's presence here aims to promote economic integration and the free-trade zone in the region .... China is not part of the TPP, nor does it take part in TPP-related talks.
"China believes that given the current circumstances, Asia-Pacific economies should continue to move toward regional economic integration, speak strongly in firm support of economic globalisation, reaffirm the construction of an open economy in the region, and promote an Asia-Pacific free-trade zone," said Yin.
Munoz underscored the importance of China's presence as a leading global economic power and champion of free trade.
Ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, as well as the ambassadors of Vietnam, Malaysia and the United States in Chile attended the event.