MANILA - Latin America's current economic slowdown owing to a drop in commodity prices should not deter the ambitions of the four-member Pacific Alliance but rather be seen as an opportunity to seek out new markets, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala told EFE.
Humala took part in this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Manila, along with the other heads of state of Pacific Alliance countries: Chile's Michelle Bachelet, Mexico's Enrique Peņa Nieto and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos.
They were jointly attending the APEC forum's summit for the first time with an eye on a future trade agreement covering the entire region, as well as to tout the strides made since four of Latin America's most dynamic economies formed their alliance in 2012.
These advances, according to the president, need to be made known to gain a firmer footing in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes the world's three biggest economies (the United States, China and Japan), as well as powerful organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an economic bloc established in 1967 in Bangkok.
"There are differences in terms of the size of the economies within the APEC," Humala said in an interview with EFE during the two-day summit, which concluded on Thursday.
The fact that the four Pacific Alliance countries - including Colombia, which is not a part of APEC - took part in the summit for the first time strengthens Latin America's position vis-a-vis the world's economic powers, Humala said.
"The Asia-Pacific space is very broad and there's a clear preponderance of Asian countries relative to Latin America," he said.
The Peruvian leader expressed pride in the achievements of the Pacific Alliance during its first three years, highlighting visa-free travel for up to a year, the creation of a $100 million cooperation fund, stock market integration and joint diplomatic missions and commercial offices.
"In less than four years, we've managed to eliminate tariffs on 92 percent of exportable goods and given ourselves 10 to 15 years to eliminate all levies that can hamper free transit of the remaining 8 percent (of merchandise)," he said.
The interest shown in the Pacific Alliance by the other APEC economies "is a recognition of (its) ambitious free-market model," Humala stressed.
He added, however, that that economic and trade integration platform had not yet realized the full potential represented by those four economies, which have average per capita income of $10,000, 217 million people (35 percent of Latin America's population) and 37 percent of regional gross domestic product (GDP).
Those four countries also account for 31 percent of foreign direct investment in Latin America, he noted.
"We're looking to enter a lot more markets, but we've discovered there's still much more space internally in the Pacific Alliance that we're still not exploiting. This is something the slowdown has made us realize," he explained.
Peru's ambitions, however, are not limited to the Pacific Alliance or the APEC forum.
The Andean nation also is a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which brings together 12 countries representing 40 percent of global GDP and, according to Humala, will be "the most advanced" trade pact in the world.
The Peruvian president acknowledged that his country had been hard hit by the global economic crisis, since much of its economy is based on exporting raw materials.
"In Peru, obviously, like all the world's countries and particularly Latin America, it's hit us hard. Our exports have fallen by approximately 10 percent," he said.
"But on a positive note, Peru has pursued a policy of macroeconomic stability, in which our debt levels are minimal, our GDP has doubled over the past 15 years and we have strong international reserves," Humala said.
Thanks to responsible economic management, "it's been possible to develop a social policy," he said.
And, indeed, social inclusion and high quality development are objectives that Peru plans to prioritize at next year's APEC summit, which the Andean nation will host.