LIMA, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- The Third Summit of South American and Arab Countries (ASPA) kicked off on Monday here in the Peruvian capital to bolster commercial, political and cultural ties between the two regions.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo said the summit serves to promote integration between the 22 Arab and 12 South American members, by narrowing the geographical distance between them as the countries forge a new political and economic bloc.
The two-day summit began Monday with a meeting of foreign ministers from member states, and a parallel CEO summit dedicated to promoting trade and investment.
The ministers are working on a draft of a Lima Declaration that heads of state and government are expected to present Tuesday, the final day of the gathering.
Peruvian Foreign Ministry said the final document will include a call for greater cooperation in the areas of energy, finances and agribusiness, among others.
Participants in ASPA's third top-level summit themed "A culture of peace, inclusion and development," expect the two-day event to help improve trade and cooperation ties between the two regions.
Both regions are pursuing new opportunities at a time when traditional trade partners Europe and the United States are steeped in a financial crisis threatening economies around the world.
ASPA was the initiative of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who noted during a 2003 tour of the Arab world that the two regions, while geographically distant, had much in common in terms of culture, society and development, certainly more so than either region has with traditional trade partners Europe and the United States.
Describing the Arab nations as "countries similar to ours," he called for greater south-south cooperation between the two regions, and formally established the group in 2004 with the help of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Arab League.
Commerce between the two regions has grown threefold from 11 billion U.S. dollars in 2003 to 30 billion U.S. dollars in 2008.
Among the Arab leaders attending the summit are Jordan's King Hussein, Lebanese President Michel Sulayman, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, and the Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Syria is barred from attending, since it has been temporarily suspended from the Arab League.
From South America, presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana and Uruguay are participating the summit. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in the last days of a re-election campaign, and will be represented by Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. Paraguay is barred from attending because it has been suspended from Unasur until presidential elections are held next April.