Foreign ministers and envoys from 33 Latin America and East Asian countries on Wednesday opened in Brazilian capital BrasÀlia two days of talks to boost fledgling trade ties and build links between the far-flung regions.
The Forum for East Asia Latin American Cooperation (Fealac) "can well be the greatest ocean-connecting bridge," said Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso of the two regions separated by the vast Pacific Ocean.
"Our two-way trade is now 3.5 times as big as it was in 1998, from US$ 53 billion to US$ 183," he said.
"The canals connecting the two oceans, both wet and dry, must be made broader." Opening the meeting, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim called for countries to "explore common interests" between the distant regions.
"We all understand the importance of South-South cooperation," he said.
South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-Hoon, who is co-hosting the meeting, said "there is synergy between our two regions."
Japanese minister Aso said the forum could have a major role to become on the world stage.
"Because the Fealac is a powerful driver of the world economy, it bears grave responsibilities to give a strong push to World Trade Organization negotiations, as well as to the UN reforms," he said.
He said that at the moment Latin America accounted for "only 3% of the total amount of East Asia trade with the entire world. Seen from Latin America, the corresponding figure is a mere 9.6%." The official agenda calls for a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The two-day meeting is drawing up a final declaration to be issued on Thursday giving priority to trade and investment cooperation, according to a draft.
Many of the participants – like Brazil, China, Indonesia or Argentina – are also members of the G-20 bloc of developing countries vigorously opposed to the agricultural subsidies granted in Europe and the United States, which they see as unfair.
The East Asian members of the bloc are: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Latinamerican members are: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
During the meeting the Dominican Republic is due to become a new member of the organization founded in Chile in 2001, while Brazil is calling for the other nations of the Caribbean to be admitted.
The forum previously met in Santiago in 2001 and Manila in 2004.