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Latin American leaders sign trade pact to promote Asia commerce

CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met Monday with the leaders of Chile, Mexico and Peru to sign a major regional trade pact formed with an eye on Asian markets.

“We are going to build a trade agreement of transcendent importance which will allow tariffs to be lifted on 92 percent of products,” Santos said in the Colombian resort city of Cartagena.

Tariffs on some sensitive goods, however, such as imports of banana and coffee in Mexico or corn and beans in Colombia, will remain unaffected for up to 17 years.

The trade pact must be ratified by each country's legislature, with officials estimating that it will be 2015 before the tariffs come down.

The four countries are members of the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American trade bloc formed less than two years ago to promote trade with Asia.

Attending the opening ceremony were Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto and Peru's President Ollanta Humala.

Also taking part was Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla, whose country was recently admitted to the group but is not yet a full member.

“We will do everything possible to enrich and strengthen this process,” Chinchilla said.

The bloc encompasses 212 million people in a region that accounts for more than a third of Latin America's gross domestic product.

Colombian trade minister Santiago Rojas said the hope is that the pact will promote efficiencies among industries.

He said it also will also allow the bloc to take advantage of free trade agreements that one member may have with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Left to right, Presidents Ollanta Humala, of Peru, Sebastian Pinera, of Chile, Juan Manuel Santos, of Colombia and Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, applaud after signing an economic agreement at the Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia on Monday, Feb. 10 during the VIII Pacific Alliance presidential summit. (AFP)

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