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Chile to start free trade talks with Australia


Chile to start free trade talks with Australia

7 September 2006

By Antonio de la Jara

SANTIAGO, Chile, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Chile plans to add Australia, Thailand and Malaysia to a growing list of free -trade partners as it pushes to become Asia’s gateway to Latin America, Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said on Thursday.

Foxley said he would travel to Australia with top business leaders and officials prior to the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Vietnam in November.

"We hope to go to Australia with an important group of business leaders and seriously discuss the possibility of a free-trade agreement," Foxley said.

Australia is already active in Chile’s mining sector through Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton (BHP.AX: Quote, Profile, Research) (BLT.L: Quote, Profile, Research), the majority shareholder of Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine.

Chile’s exports to Australia totaled $95 million in 2005, while imports from Australia reached $165 million.

Foxley also said Chile was holding preliminary free trade talks with Thailand and Malaysia, whose trade with Chile last year totaled $291 million and $230 million respectively.

Over one third of Chile’s exports go to Asia. Chile recently signed a free trade agreement with China, its second largest trade partner after the United States, following 10 months of negotiations.

"Asia is undeniably one of the worlds economic engines," Foxley said. "So it is undoubtedly necessary that we strengthen our ties with Asia beyond our diplomatic relations."

Chile has free-trade pacts with every major economy in the world except Japan, its third largest trade partner, with which it is currently negotiating. Foxley said those talks should reach a successful conclusion by the end of the year.