China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao called Tuesday for launching an economic cooperation forum to forge closer ties between Beijing and Latin America, amid a dramatic surge in bilateral trade. The new group would aim to "create a high-level platform" for economic relations between the two parties, said Wen, who is on the last leg of a four-nation tour of the region. Earlier, Wen said Beijing was prepared to trade with the newly formed Pacific Alliance trade bloc create at the beginning of this month. The group includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. "China is willing to create and develop relations with the Pacific Alliance," Wen said at a news conference in Santiago. The new Pacific trade bloc -- with a market with 215 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product of more than $2 trillion -- was conceived in Lima last year at the urging of Peru's former president Alan Garcia. The group aims to establish free trade among its members but also to open them to markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Santiago is the Chinese premier's last stop on a South American tour that has also taken him to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. During his visit, Wen also concluded an accord with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to broaden the free trade agreement that the two countries signed in 2005. Voracious China has been eagerly purchasing raw minerals and agricultural products from Latin America. Bilateral trade has skyrocketed in the past five years by more than 160 percent, surging from $68 billion in 2006 to $178.9 billion in 2010. The benefits of the boom have been shared fairly evenly. As of last year, Latin American nations exported $90.3 billion to China, which in turn imported goods worth $88.6 billion.
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