This is the second post in a series of three that examines the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Pacific Alliance, and what they mean for each other and the growing Pacific region economy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unique because of its wide geographic reach, which includes members from North and South America, East Asia, and the Oceania; and its deep, comprehensive economic goals. The Pacific Alliance (PA), however, does not include such broad membership – it counts just 4 Latin American partners – but it does share the TPP’s ambitious goals for the Pacific region.

The Alliance comprises Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru and was set in motion in April 2011 when these countries called for the creation of a trade bloc in the Lima Declaration. In June 2012, the Alliance was formalized at the signing of a “Framework Agreement.” The agreement’s stated objectives are 3-fold: (1) deepen economic integration to allow for the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people; (2) promote economic growth, competitiveness, and development; and (3) act as a platform to project global political and economic power, especially toward the Asian Pacific region.

The PA’s members have enthusiastically worked toward their objectives, holding 6 presidential summits and 25 ministerial and technical working group meetings over the past 2 years. This flurry of effort has resulted in an accord to eliminate visa requirements for citizens traveling between the countries; technological, scientific, and student exchanges; and a target date of March 31, 2013 for the elimination of tariffs on 90% of goods traded between the members.

If successful, the Alliance will strengthen already robust commercial ties between the countries. FTAs are in force between all the members – in fact a FTA with each member is a prerequisite for joining the PA. Further, Chile, Colombia, and Peru have used an integrated stock market, the Integrated Latin American Market (MILA), since May 2011. Negotiations for Mexico to join the MILA are progressing within the PA framework.

The progress made to date and the strong economic relationships between members point to a bright prospects for the Alliance. The Alliance represents US$1.3 trillion in GDP – almost 25% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s combined GDP – and 55% of Latin American exports. It also provides a functional free-market alternative to the debilitated and oft-protectionist Mercosur coalition comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela.

For all its bright prospects, the PA does suffer from some weaknesses. First, because FTAs already exist between all the members, bringing tariffs to zero on 90% of goods will not have a large effect. Instead, the Alliance will have to hammer away at greater challenges like customs and regulatory harmonization to boost trade. Second, although its intended focus is the Asian Pacific, it only counts 3 observer states from that region: Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. It will have to work further to engage other commercial partners in the Asia Pacific.

Nevertheless, the group signals the increasing America-Asia link coming from the Pacific. Although Brazil remains Asia’s largest trade partner in Latin America, trade between the PA countries and Asia amounted to 49% of all Latin American/Caribbean trade with Asia in 2011, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Even as the economic gains from the Alliance build, the political ones may be just as important. Interest in the PA has spread from North and Central America to Spain and even Turkey as the Alliance has welcomed Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, and Spain as observer states, and opened an office in Istanbul. It has lured Mercosur member Uruguay in as an observer, and was ready to receive the chastised Paraguay after it was suspended from that customs union. But as its profile increases, PA leaders insist that the Alliance is open to all and does not see any other trade bloc or nation as a competitor.

The Pacific Alliance, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is an indication of the Pacific region’s growing economic clout. Rather than looking inward or toward the United States, Latin America is seeing the importance of reaching out to Asia. In both the PA and the TPP, nations are challenging geography and tradition by building bridges over the world’s greatest divide. But how exactly will these two agreements impact one another, and how will they affect the region as a whole? We’ll delve deeper into these questions in the final installment.