Wen urges enhanced co-operation with Latin America

Beijing has proposed establishing a China-Latin America cooperation forum, and both sides should strive to increase trade volume to US$400 billion (S$513 billion) within five years, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Tuesday, calling for enhanced political mutual trust and strategic cooperation.

Wen made the remarks in a speech delivered to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean during his visit in Santiago, Chile's capital.

The ECLAC is a regional economic committee aimed at promoting regional economic and social development and boosting economic cooperation among its 44 members.

Observers said the rapid development of relations between China and Latin America is "well above all people's expectations".

"From 2000, it took six years for China and Latin American countries to expand their trade volume from US$10 billion to $100 billion, but only four years to jump to US$200 billion. Such an astonishing rate of expansion suggests the goal that Premier Wen mentioned in his speech is not hard to achieve," said Chen Yuanting, a Latin American expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Chen said she was optimistic about the future of economic exchanges between China and ECLAC countries.

Making economic and trade cooperation a priority, Wen also called for the expansion of common interests between China and Latin America.

He said China is willing to set up a regular foreign ministers' dialogue mechanism and discuss the establishment of a regular meeting among Chinese and Latin American leaders.

"Latin America has become more and more important in China's diplomatic strategy. Meanwhile, there is also growing awareness among countries in the region of China's leading role in generating economic growth," Chen said.

Wen announced that Chinese financial institutions will initiate a China-Latin America cooperation fund of US$5 billion to support investment in manufacturing projects, technology innovation and sustainable development. He said China will also extend a $10-billion special loan to support infrastructure cooperation between the two sides.

China is also ready to discuss and sign currency swap agreements with more ECLAC countries, Wen said.

He asked for more promotion of food security through agricultural cooperation.

China has proposed to launch a forum for Chinese and Latin American agriculture ministers, a China-Latin America mechanism for emergency food reserves of half a million metric tons and an agricultural cooperation and development special fund, Wen said.

Meanwhile, China is willing to build research and development centers for agriculture technology, demonstration industrial parks for farm product processing and development zones for agriculture investment in Latin America, Wen said.

He also urged further people-to-people and cultural exchanges to strengthen the China-Latin American friendship. The Chinese government has encouraged the opening of Chinese culture centers in Latin America and will offer 5,000 scholarships to Latin American students over the next five years, he said.

Wen also proposed to establish a forum for technological innovation to enhance cooperation in aviation, space, new energy, the environment, as well as oceanic and polar sciences and research.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Wednesday said Wen's proposal shows that China intends to establish a platform at a higher level to stand with an integrated Latin America to meet global challenges and realize common development.

"China has contributed to Latin America's surprising economic performance during the worldwide financial turmoil in recent years. Yet both sides are embracing greater opportunities to deepen their ties," Chen, the expert said.

"Differences in economic patterns define the trade mix between China and Latin American countries," Chen said. "No one manipulates the trade. And I think existing frictions prove that the economic ties between China and Latin America have not yet fully developed. The two sides enjoy more potential despite their cooperation in agriculture and natural resources."

Chen also said that Chinese investors, as newcomers into Latin America, will face strong competition from the United States and EU countries.

"What China is facing now is similar to Japan's experience in Latin America in 1970s. But trade conflicts will finally phase out."

"As a very influential body in policymaking among Latin American governments, the ECLAC said in a report that cooperation between China and the region has entered a new stage. And it also suggests its member countries should further improve their relations with China," Chen added.

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