WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera have met at the White House, discussing progress toward creation of a trans-Pacific free-trade zone, and other regional and global issues.
Pinera's visit comes just more than two years after Obama visited Chile, where in an address in Santiago he praised political, economic and social progress across Latin America.
Vice President Joe Biden, who recently was in the region as part of a second-term Obama administration outreach to the region, also attended the Oval Office discussions.
Chile and the United States are among 11 nations working to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new trade agreement.
Obama praised what he called Chile's "remarkable growth trajectory" and its role in the TPP negotiations.
"We discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a high standard, high level trade agreement with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region which is the most dynamic and fastest growing region of the world, and Chile has been an excellent partner with us in trying to bring this multilateral trade agreement to a close," said Obama.
TPP negotiations involve 11 nations: the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand, with Japan also scheduled to join the talks.
Talks involve complex market access, legal, financial and labor issues. Washington said momentum was strong after the last round of talks in Peru. The next round is in Malaysia in July.
Pinera said Chile hopes a final deal on the trade zone will be achieved.
"Chile is fully committed not only [to] achieving an agreement [to] create the largest free trade zone in the world, which will be the case if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is approved, but also we want to approve it within the time frame that we have set," said Pinera.
The discussions, which Obama called "wide-ranging," also included the subject of negotiations for Chile to join the U.S. visa waiver program.
Next week, Obama welcomes the president of Peru, and the White House announced recently that President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil will pay a state visit in October.
The flurry of U.S. activity on Latin America, with an emphasis on trade, comes as China, which is not part of TPP negotiations, has conducted what media reports have called a charm offensive in the region.
China's President Xi Jinping, who is to meet Friday and Saturday with Obama in California, has visited Mexico, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago discussing economic cooperation.