PARANAL, Chile, June 6 (Xinhua) -- The presidents of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico gathered in Paranal, a northern Chilean town Wednesday to mark the creation of the Pacific Alliance, hailing it as the most important step towards regional integration ever taken in Latin America.
"The Pacific Alliance is born with a clear calling and a spirit of profound integration," Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said at the opening of the summit. The regional bloc is designed to promote free trade while boosting ties with Asia, especially China.
"With the cooperation of the four founding countries we are advancing towards a process of integration" unprecedented in Latin America, said Pinera.
The event taking place at the Cerro Paranal Observatory in Antofagasta, Chile, is attended by the presidents of Peru, Ollanta Humala; Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos; and Mexico, Felipe Calderon, each of whom will be signing the alliance framework agreement, along with Pinera.
The alliance "seeks to go beyond trade," said Pinera, adding " we are convinced (it) will serve as a great tool to achieve development."
Colombia's Santos, in turn, called the alliance "Latin America' s most important process of integration."
In a reference widely believed to be directed at Brazil, which has been reluctant to join the alliance, Santos added "this partnership is not against anybody, but in favor of the member countries" looking to expand their economic prospects.
The Latin American nations have been increasingly looking to Asia, particularly China, as their two largest trading partners, the United States and Europe, struggle with debt burdens and slowing economies.
Peru's President Humala said the bloc would be open to all Latin American nations and expressed confidence that eliminating trade tariffs between the four countries would lead to greater employment and prosperity.
Peru will be "an active partner" in promoting trade, investment and economic cooperation "to reduce inequality in our societies," said Humala.
The alliance could eventually become one of the world's most important regional engines of development given the members' potential for expanding economic cooperation with Asian nations, said Mexico's President Calderon.
Attending the summit as observers are Canadian Foreign Minister John Blair, Panamanian Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez de Soto, and a Costa Rican envoy. Spain's King Juan Carlos, on an official visit to Chile, was also at the summit, though in an unofficial capacity.
The member nations together represent 34.8 percent of Latin America's GDP and 55 percent of total regional exports. Their exports to Asia, mainly China, reached more than 71 billion U.S. dollars in 2011 and registered average annual growth of 13 percent between 2007 and 2011.
Initially proposed on April 28, 2011 in Peru by then President Alan Garcia, the Pacific Alliance joins similar trade organizations of its kind in Latin America, including the Community of Andean Nations (CAN), Mercosur, the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), and the Caribbean's Caricom.
The alliance "does not aim to compete with other types of accords and alliances in Latin America, it is simply a way to advance integration more quickly and reach farther towards the Pacific Rim," said Pinera.
The summit is to conclude later Wednesday with the Declaration of Paranal, outlining the objectives and regulations governing the new alliance.