BOGOTA (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande said on Monday that he would seek to bolster trade and investment with the Pacific Alliance trade bloc in joint negotiations with the European Union.
The Pacific Alliance, which includes Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru, is a vehicle aimed at increasing regional exports and attract investment from Asia.
"France and Europe want to have a commercial relationship with the Pacific Alliance," Hollande said in a statement after signing agreements on tourism, education and security with his Colombia counterpart Juan Manuel Santos.
"Europe and France together with the Pacific Alliance will launch commercial negotiations to be able to develop trade," said Hollande, who also backed Santos' efforts to end a 52-year war that has left more than 220,000 people dead.
Hollande made indirect mention of new U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that while some countries are seeking changes to trade agreements, Europe and France want to expand their ties.
Protectionism is "the worst response" to the challenges facing the world, he said.
Trump on Monday signed an executive order formally withdrawing the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, following through on a promise from his campaign last year.
Trump also wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The Pacific Alliance, which has said it is open to new partners, accounts for 39 percent the gross domestic product in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that mainly exports raw materials like minerals and food. Some 217 million people live in its member countries.
Hollande on Tuesday will visit a mountainous area of southwestern Colombia, where ex-combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are gathering before handing in their weapons to form a political party.
The rebel group signed a peace accord late last year.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Sandra Maler)