By Edwin Whenmouth New Zealand this month launched a three-year program to expand trade with Latin America, including a drive for a free-trade deal with Chile and the opening of an embassy in Brasilia by October 2001, its fourth in the region. Though small, New Zealand's exports to Latin America grew by 357% to about NZ$841 million (US$378 million) in 1998 from 1990, before the region's economic downturn knocked them back to $620 million (US$279 million) last year. Even so, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington says trade is expected to grow strongly as democratic structures and the economic reforms of the 1990s take root throughout Latin America. During fiscal 2000 (July-June), the region will be the focus of 25% of New Zealand's Trade Access Support Programme, which pays for visits by key officials and examinations of trade policies and barriers. Prime Minister Helen Clark raised the question of a three-way deal on free trade that also would include Singapore when she met with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in Santiago in March. Negotiations with Chile will begin in earnest once a recently negotiated agreement between New Zealand and Singapore has been formally approved by both sides, the ministry says.