The new Chilean ambassador to Japan, Demetrio Infante, said Tuesday he is hopeful that a free-trade agreement will be concluded to help further expand bilateral trade, which is expected to top $3.5 billion this year.

Infante, a 61-year-old career diplomat, said during his visit to The Japan Times that two groups of private-sector people, including business and think tank leaders, have already been studying theInfantemerits and demerits of such a treaty, as a first step before starting government-level negotiations.

They are expected to come out with a report on their study and discussion next February, he said. Chile has free-trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and most of Latin America.

His government and the business sector feel a strong need to strengthen economic ties with Japan and further open up their markets, he said.

Infante, who was named ambassador to Tokyo in August, just came back to the Tokyo post from Santiago, where Japanese and Chilean business leaders talked about ways to expand their business cooperation.

He said he wants to see more Japanese investment in Chile to utilize his country’s mineral, forestry and fishery resources. Currently, Japanese business groups are mining copper in a joint venture with Chilean businesses, and exports of copper, timber, wine, salmon and other products to Japan exceed imports from Japan.

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