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Latin American Countries Seek Level Playing Field, Economic Models at APEC Summit

Three Latin American nations are taking part in this week's summit of Asian and Pacific leaders in South Korea. Latin American delegates say they understand the potential benefits of free trade - but hope to cushion some of the pain caused to some workers and businesses by increased trade competition and globalization.

At this week's APEC summit in Busan, Peru, Chile, and Mexico hope to find ways to balance the benefits of free trade with the needs of those who can lose out to greater competition. Chile, which hosted last year's APEC meeting in Santiago, has been one of the organization's most aggressive members in negotiating free trade agreements, or FTAs, and regional trade agreements, or RTAs.

Paola Calcagni, a delegate from Chile's Trade Ministry, says overwhelming exposure to international markets makes it crucial for her country to stay engaged with APEC.

"We do need rules in this globalized world. Right now we have like 85 percent of our trade already covered by FTAs, RTAs, or other association partnerships," she said.

Since APEC members have pledged to have free trade in most goods and services in the group by 2020, the Latin American members say they must start working now to be able to compete with such trading powerhouses as Japan, China and the United States.

Ms. Calcagni says because Latin American economies are still comparatively small, their delegates' main concern at APEC is to level the playing field with the economic heavyweights.

Ambassador Juan Carlos Capunay, a senior delegate from Peru, says Latin American economies, like many Asian economies, have a lot of small and medium-sized businesses that have not been fully integrated into the world economy. He says APEC provides his country with an opportunity to learn from Asian members of similar size, such as Thailand, which have well-developed export industries.

"Thailand has a project that they call OTOP: 'one town, one product.' It's trying to help the people to organize themselves and go to the international market," he said. "We are trying that one in Latin America."

Ambassador Capunay says the Latin American delegates also come to APEC for help in narrowing inequalities of income and education in their economies, and to sign on to anti-corruption initiatives.

Latin American delegates also say they share the urgent interest of all APEC nations in preparing for a possible avian flu pandemic. They hope the summit will produce not just an agreement on medical countermeasures, but ways to shield smaller economies in the event a pandemic shuts down global trade.

Panama will take part in the APEC gathering this week as an observer, but hopes to become a full member of the group next year.