Obama Cites Chilean Growth in Meeting With Pinera on Trade

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera renewed their push for a trans-Pacific trade agreement at a White House meeting that also touched on education and renewable energy.

Chile is “fully committed” to negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership and creating the world’s largest free-trade zone, Pinera said. Close economic ties with the U.S. benefit Chile. “We are very optimistic that the U.S. economy’s picking up,” he said, calling it good “for the whole world.”

“Chile has been on a remarkable growth trajectory,” Obama told reporters after the meeting, which included discussions of a visa-waiver program.

Vice President Joe Biden also attended the private session, which took place as the U.S., Chile and nine other nations are negotiating the Pacific trade agreement. The governments in the talks invited Japan in April to join.

If Japan decides to participate, “that will have an impact on timing” for a deal, Pinera said today after a luncheon speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “It will take some more time, but I think it’s worthwhile” to include Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, he said.

The TPP nations aim to reach agreement by the end of the year, Pinera said. The parties are still trying to resolve differences on issues including intellectual property and labor and environmental standards, he said, without elaborating.

Expanding Trade

Pinera’s government is seeking to boost trade as the U.S. and China, the world’s largest economies, vie for increased ties with Latin America. Obama, Biden and Commerce Department officials separately visited the region last month ahead of a Latin American tour by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chile, which has trade deals with 62 countries, is forecast to expand its economy by 4.9 percent this year, the second-fastest pace of major nations in Latin America after Peru, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Latin America has become divided between Pacific-facing, market-friendly countries with free trade policies, such as Chile and Mexico, and Atlantic-facing, protectionist and populist countries such as Argentina and Venezuela, said Tony Volpon, head of research for the Americas at Nomura Holdings Inc.

“Brazil is kind of in the middle but slipping slowly toward Argentina and Venezuela,” Volpon said by telephone on May 3.

Pacific Alliance

Chile has a free-trade agreement with the U.S. It’s also a member of a regional trading bloc, known as the Pacific Alliance, with Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would create a trading region with about $26.4 trillion in annual economic output with Japan’s inclusion.

The TPP group includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China also may consider joining, according to its Ministry of Commerce. The U.S. is seeking broad participation from economies in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Obama is set to meet with Peru’s President Ollanta Humala on June 11.

The U.S. last year had a surplus of $9.4 billion in trade in goods with Chile, a 36 percent increase from 2011, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

The Andean nation exported $9.4 billion in goods to the U.S. last year, compared with $32.1 billion from Brazil. Still, Chile’s exports have grown faster since the free-trade agreement with the U.S. went into effect in 2004, increasing 153 percent during the period, almost double the 80 percent increase for Brazilian goods.

Pinera, 63, a billionaire, won election in 2010 and is in the last year of his presidency. He was ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest person in Chile and the 589th wealthiest in the world, with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Pinera said in Washington yesterday that talks to ease U.S. visa restrictions for Chileans had made “important progress” and that this was a recognition of the country’s integration into the global economy.

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