Countries on the edge of the Pacific Ocean account for 55% of global gross domestic product and 49% of world trade. And yet until recently it was the developed economies of North America and Europe that served as catalysts for growth, delivering capital for investments and know-how to the southern hemisphere.

But now, while the EU and the US are busy tackling domestic problems, Asian and Latin American economies are finding ways to strengthen their relations, irrespective of the problems thwarting northern hemisphere economies. A shift in economic power and the sheer fact that Pacific Basin countries have immense economic potential would count for nothing, however, without a good relationship between those investing in the region and those seeking the capital.

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The nuances of conducting business in Pacific Basin countries such as Ecuador, China and New Zealand vary markedly. But events such as the First International Meeting of the Pacific Basin, which is being held in October in Cali, Colombia, will enable businesses to gain first-hand knowledge of a wide range of opportunities in the region, as well as the challenges it poses and ways to overcome them.

Opportunity knocks

“Companies of all sizes and in all sectors are looking at Asia-Pacific as a market. Investing in Asia is not easy and it makes sense to take advice from the people who know the region,” says Sir Stephen Brown, a partner at consultancy ADRg Ambassadors and former British ambassador to South Korea and high commissioner to Singapore, in praising initiatives such as the International Meeting of the Pacific Basin.

Over the past few decades, however, the biggest problem obstructing south-south co-operation has been timing. There was never a ‘right time’ for the regions or countries in the southern hemisphere to come together, as any potential co-operation was overshadowed by unfavourable economic occurrences such as the Latin American crises of 1982, 1994 and 2002, or the Asian crisis of 1997

The Cali event boasts an impressive array of experts, from José Antonio Galilea – Chilean minister of agriculture, who will be speaking about his country’s strategy to increase the presence of Chilean value-added food products in China – to representatives from Sinopec, one of China’s major petroleum companies, who will be speaking on the Asian strategy to meet the global demand for fuel.

Building on history

Efforts to bring together countries located by the Pacific Ocean date as far back as the 1960s, when the first business association, the Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC), was established. The 1980s marked another surge of interest in co-operation in the region, which resulted in establishing the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council in 1980 and the Asian Pacific Economic Council (APEC) in 1989. Cali’s get-together does not intend to compete with these entities and positions itself as the networking opportunity for parties wishing to invest in the region.

“This event seeks to complement [regional] organisations, by creating a forum where issues undertaken by PBEC and APEC are discussed,” says Maria Eugenia Lloreda, executive director of Invest Pacific, the promotional agency organising the meeting. She adds that there are still many issues that need to be discussed by governments and the private sector. These include labour market conditions, taxes and levels of technology and infrastructure.

Over the past few decades, however, the biggest problem obstructing south-south co-operation has been timing. There was never a ‘right time’ for the regions or countries in the southern hemisphere to come together, as any potential co-operation was overshadowed by unfavourable economic occurrences such as the Latin American crises of 1982, 1994 and 2002, or the Asian crisis of 1997. Now, as Ms Lloreda says: “The region is leading the world economic comeback from the global crisis and, thanks to an increasing number of trade agreements between countries, [the Pacific Basin region is seeing] easier and cheaper trade, and an increasing wave of investment inflows”.

Co-operation in the Pacific Basin is finally gaining momentum and, as the economies of Asia and Latin America speed up, so too should trade and investment between them.