Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, Peru's President Ollanta Humala, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Peru's President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (L-R) pose for an official picture with the Calbuco volcano in the background during the XI Summit of the Pacific Alliance in Frutillar, Chile July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Cristobal Saavedra(reuters_tickers)
By Anthony Esposito and Antonio De la Jara
PUERTO VARAS, Chile (Reuters) - The presidents of the four nations in Latin America's Pacific Alliance trade bloc met on Friday to forge an integrationist path that runs counter to Britain's recent exit from the European Union, emphasizing the need to make economic growth more inclusive.
The bloc, composed of Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Peru, accounts for 38 percent of Latin America's gross domestic product. Some 92 percent of trade between member nations is free of tariffs.
At the group's annual summit, leaders stressed that additional agreements, such as moves to integrate financial systems, were within reach, and were symbolically important in a time marked by increasing protectionism.
"When you look at Brexit, when you look at what is happening in the United States with support for Donald Trump, these are people of modest means that got left behind by globalisation and that live in rural areas," said Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet.
"My colleagues have all expounded on the importance of integration, but this needs to have social well-being, improved and shared prosperity as a key element," said Bachelet, who added that deepening economic ties within the trade bloc could add 1 to 2 percentage points of GDP growth in coming decades.
To that end the heads of state committed their countries to establishing policies to support small and medium scale companies, which employ millions in the region, and to help worker mobility across borders.
Speaking to the conference, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican leader Enrique Pena Nieto also said that further integration would serve as a counterpoint to the path represented by "Brexit."
Leaders agreed at the conference that the bloc's likely next steps concern financial integration, which they hope will spur infrastructure investment and open up options for the region's public investment funds.
Finance ministers from the bloc agreed to evaluate the taxation and financing barriers that impede regional investment. They also agreed to work to even out tax rules between member nations so that pension funds are subject to fewer regulatory burdens.
"If we consider ourselves only one country, one market, then what we need to do is make it easier for our pension funds and other instruments and entities be treated as if they were one market," Colombia's Santos said. "If I invest in Mexico or Chile, it's as if I invested in Colombia."
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Gram Slattery and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Matthew Lewis)