Peru leader set for key Asia trip

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will set off this week on his first official trip to Asia, seeking to sell his country as an ideal hub for trade between Latin America and the Asia-Pacific.

Humala, who will be accompanied by several key ministers and a number of business leaders, on Tuesday will make his first stop in Japan, Peru's number five trading partner.

He will hold talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and meet with Emperor Akihito, according to Peru's Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, he will head to South Korea, where he was posted as a military attache in 2004. Talks with President Lee Myung-Bak are on the agenda, along with a visit to the industrial city of Ulsan, before departing on Saturday.

Humala is looking to drum up investment and also to secure loans at preferential rates for energy and clean drinking water programs, as well as for development of tourism in the Amazon, Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo said.

Peru and South Korea will sign off on a declaration of strategic association, in a follow-up to their free trade deal.

"This is a trip primarily focused on economic interests," analyst Ernesto Velit Granda told AFP. "Peru wants to showcase its economy as a model in Latin America and try to entice investors."

Humala will tout the country's good economic health and a growth rate that is among the highest in South America. Peru's Pacific coastline and its central location on the continent are also potential selling points for investors.

Peru is already the gateway for several countries in the region doing business with Asia, including Brazil, the world's sixth-largest economy.

El Callao, not far from the capital Lima, is the number one Pacific port in South America in terms of container traffic.

According to data published last week by the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, foreign direct investment in Peru totaled $7.65 billion in 2011, a new record for the country.

Humala's first official visit to Asia comes less than a year after the start of his mandate in July 2011.

"After trips to the United States and Europe, he's showing that he's doing things in a geopolitical order of sorts," said Fernando Gonzalez Vigil, director of the APEC Study Center at the Universidad del Pacifico in Lima.

"This is a good time to go to Asia... particularly to South Korea, which has given a significant boost to its investments in Peru," Gonzalez Vigil told AFP.

Those investments are mainly concentrated in the energy and mining sectors. Japan and China have also poured money into those industries.

Peru has always maintained strong ties with Japan, in large part due to the influx of Japanese immigrants starting in 1899. There are now about 80,000 Peruvians of Japanese descent.

That is just a fraction of the country's total population of 28 million, but the community has been remarkably influential, with the high point coming when Alberto Fujimori ruled from 1990 to 2000.

Humala, a former leftist army officer, has so far made official visits to the United States and Spain since taking office. He also attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He took part in the last Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii, backing the creation of a Pacific-wide trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership championed by US President Barack Obama.

Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam have so far signed up to take part in negotiations toward the deal.

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