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Chilean Ambassador to Seoul upbeat on future prospects As Chile was the official host of last year's 12th Economic Leaders' Meeting in Santiago, capital city of Chile, the Korea IT Times interviewed the South American country's ambassador to the Republic of Korea, H.E. Adolfo Carafi. In a wide-ranging interview, the Chilean envoy spoke of the benefits derived from hosting the Summit and the initiatives launched during the Santiago summit with the theme "One Community, Our Future," that will be followed up on during the Busan meeting.
Chile was selected to host last year's meeting on the 10th anniversary of its joining APEC in 1994. Emphasizing that Chile is fully involved in the global process of market opening in the era of free trade, Ambassador Carafi cited the example of Korea's very first free trade agreement, namely with Chile. He also revealed that Chile would soon be the first country to have an FTA with China, which was currently being negotiated.
Although Chile is a relatively small economy, with its population of just 15 million, it is well oriented toward APEC and its member economies.
At the12th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, the "Santiago Declaration" focused on three ideas and targets:
* Advancing development through trade and investment liberalization;
* Promoting and expanding trade among APEC member economies
* Enhancing human security underpinning economic growth In this context, Chile is firmly committed to the achievement of the Bogor Goals (for 2010 and 2020 for advanced and developing economies respectively) and the Doha development Agenda (DDA) negotiations through the World Trade organization (WTO).
Some of the other issues discussed at the Santiago summit, included important issues such as women's rights, the promotion of English usage within APEC and energy issues focusing on oil prices. Another initiative, which the ambassador saw as likely to be a longer-term goal, was the plan for the Free Trade Zone of the Pacific encompassing APEC member economies and eventually superseding bilateral FTAs between the various countries. Although this initiative had been generally welcomed by the business community, member economies had different opinions regarding the idea, with some supporting it and others not so keen, he explained.
Turning to Korea-Chile relations, Ambassador Carafi was enthusiastic about the FTA signed last year, which has already resulted in a 50 percent increase in bilateral trade, with Korea being Chile's fourth-biggest trading partner after the United States, Japan and China. Korean automobiles, for instance, were the No.1 best-selling cars in Chile and other Korean products like cellular phones were dominating the market.
Annual bilateral trade was now in the region of US$3 billion and it was continuing to grow, the envoy pointed out.
In Korea, Chilean wines and grapes were enjoying unprecedented popularity with booming sales, particularly since the FTA came into force.
Asked about Chile's progress in the field of Information Technology (IT), the envoy was confident that Chile was keeping up with global trends toward informatization of economies, but conceded that Korea and some other countries were not surprisingly more advanced in areas such as broadband penetration (only 4.5 percent in Chile compared with 25 percent in Korea, he cited as an example). There was clearly a need to close the gap, he said, but Chile has the most advanced telecommunications infrastructure in South America. There exists huge potential for Korea's IT firms to get more involved in helping the growth of Chile's IT sector and the ambassador said that the Busan meeting could help raise this awareness on both sides.
Ambassador Cora agreed with a recent survey by the Santiago Chamber of Commerce that showed Chilean enterprises, particularly the small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) were lagging behind in utilizing the advantages of Internet Web sites and e-Commerce.
According to a report last year by the Chamber, although 69 percent of Chilean firms were connected to the Net, only 25 percent had their own Web site and less than 20 percent of these used it for e- Commerce purposes. This compared unfavorably with other APEC countries, he acknowledged.
However, on the positive side, he pointed out that Chile was one of the few countries in the world that had a fully Web-based tax reporting system. He also pointed out to the increasing IT connectivity of the nation's schools and the widespread use of cellular phone networks. Responding to a question about the future potential for IT cooperation between Korea and Chile, the envoy noted that there was already a high degree of collaboration. For instance, 14 universities in Chile have academic exchange programs in place, covering IT and other fields, with Korea.
Ambassador Carafi concluded with the observation that comparisons between APEC member economies were not necessarily constructive due to their huge disparities in economies of scale, comparing Chile's population and economic scale to that of countries like Brazil, China, Japan and the United States, with their massive populations. Instead, member economies should focus on ways to help one another to grow and improve, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various member economies. In this regard, the 2005 APEC Summit in Busan would play an important role in the lead up to next month's WTO meeting in Hong Kong.