August 2, 2014 / 4:18 PM / in 4 years

Abe says time for 'new chapter' in Japan, Latin America relations

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday that his country needs to look more towards Latin America to take better advantage of increasing trade flows.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during the Brazil-Japan Economic Forum opening ceremony in Sao Paulo August 2, 2014. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Abe, speaking to reporters in São Paulo where he is meeting Brazilian business leaders, said his visit to five different countries in Latin America in recent days was laying the groundwork for more cooperation and trade. Japanese banks extended $700 million in loans to different Brazilian projects during his visit.

He said the end of 15 years of deflation in Japan opened significant room to expand trade and investment with Brazil, Mexico, Chile and other countries. Abe wants to speed up discussions with Colombia too as part of efforts to boost trade with Latin America’s Pacific Ocean countries.

“I consider my trip to Latin America an opening of a new chapter in the relations between Japan and the region, a time for more cooperation,” he said.

Some of the world’s largest economies are turning their eyes to Latin America, where a wealthier middle class and healthy businesses are making for higher spending. For example, Mexico and Brazil have plans to overhaul their ageing infrastructure - a fruitful target for Japan’s companies.

Latin America has a combined gross domestic product of almost $6 trillion and is rich in minerals and metals, food, energy and other commodities.

Japan is competing with China and Russia for access to Latin American energy and minerals at a time of rising natural resource nationalism in the region. Last month, members from the BRICs group of emerging market powerhouses met in Brazil, and created a $100 billion development bank and a currency reserve pool to foster more cooperation and trade.

When asked whether the BRICs bank could diminish Japan’s influence globally, Abe declined to comment but said that he hopes the new bank is implemented under the same governance standards of other global multilateral institutions.

Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Stephen Powell

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