European Union and Latin America leaders meeting in Chile have called for closer trade ties. German Chancellor Angela Merkel used a speech to warn against protectionism.
Sixty-one countries signed on for the two-day summit. Key participants include Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Cuban leader Raul Castro, Presidents Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina and Jose Mujica of Uruguay, as well as European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
"No one should think that [current economic] difficulties can get better through protectionism," Merkel said in the speech of the meeting between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The cooperation should be guided by "values and principles" and without commercial barriers, Merkel said, "even in hard times."
Merkel, the first German chancellor to visit Chile in 22 years, invited Latin American countries to invest in Europe: "We're open."
Set up in Caracas in 2011 at the behest of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, CELAC brings together all American nations except the United States and Canada to boost regional trade and integration. Chavez, convalescing in Cuba after cancer surgery, could not attend.
The EU and Brazil have called for a speedy conclusion of a free trade pact. Negotiations have so far stumbled over differences on agriculture - notably Europe's farm subsidies to its farmers, which undercut Latin America's products.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for "deeper and balanced" ties between the EU and CELAC. Describing Latin America as "one of the engines of world growth," Ayrault expressed hope that the regions would capitalize on their "complementarity."
On Monday, CELAC leaders are scheduled to hold their own summit, at which Cuba will take over the group's chairmanship for a year now that Chile's term has finished. The meeting will seal Cuba's reintegration and mark a diplomatic coup for Fidel Castro, whose communist country has suffered half a century under a US trade embargo.
mkg/kms (AFP, dpa, dapd)