Pacific Alliance trade bloc seeks to deepen financial ties

By Antonio De la Jara and Felipe Iturrieta

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The four nations of the Pacific Alliance, one of Latin America's major trade blocs, agreed on Friday to deepen financial integration in the lead-up to a regional conference in Chile designed to counter creeping global protectionism.

The finance ministers of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, meeting in Santiago, Chile's capital, told journalists they had agreed on next steps in areas such as the flow of investment capital across borders.

"We want to create a passport for (investment) funds so that when they are registered with any one of our respective authorities, they can market and distribute in the four countries," Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.

"This already exists in the European Union ... and we want to make it a reality here," he added.

Representatives from the 12 countries that formed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, plus China and South Korea, will meet next week, the first meeting since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP in January, effectively killing the accord in its current form.

The Chile meeting is a sign that efforts to find an alternative Asia-Pacific trade pact are moving ahead and that many countries wish to flag their commitment to free trade principles.

The Pacific Alliance countries are among the keenest proponents of free trade in the Americas, and at the ministers' meeting on Friday, Chile, Colombia and Peru gave their backing to Mexico. By far the most exposed to trade with the United States of the four, Mexico is facing a threat of tariffs and the possible end of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also includes Canada.

"Mexico is going through a challenging period and we three countries want to give it all the support we can," said Chilean Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes.

Valdes said the Pacific Alliance was considering the possibility of issuing catastrophe bonds and financial instruments like exchange-traded funds as a bloc.

The ministers were also looking at the possibility of allowing pension funds to invest in infrastructure across borders, he said.

Pension funds in the Pacific Alliance have about $400 billion in investments.

(Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Leslie Adler)

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