PM hopes links forged in 60s over French nuclear testing in Pacific will turn into improved trade figures.

Prime Minister John Key left one of New Zealand's newest friends - Colombia - this morning to fly to our closest friend in Latin America: Chile. His meeting with Chile's President, Sebastian Pinera, has been delayed a day until Sunday while Mr Pinera attends the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

It's partly due to prevailing Pacific Ocean winds that Chile has the closest relationship with New Zealand of the four countries Mr Key is visiting on his Latin American trade trip.

The connection was partly built on a joint stance during French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the 1960s.

Professor Matthew O'Meagher, who set up Auckland University's Centre of Latin America Studies, said Chile and New Zealand did not have much contact, but knew of each other's efforts.


"In the 1960s, when New Zealanders were opposing French nuclear testing, so were Chileans because the wind blew their way. Mururoa is roughly between the two countries. While the two did not necessarily connect a lot, it was a big deal for both," he said.

New Zealand gets more international students and tourists from Chile than any other Latin American country.

Despite the close people-to-people links, trade is still modest although both New Zealand and Chile were in the original P4 countries signing the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2005. The Government hopes trade will lift under the TPP.

The current relationship goes beyond trade and politics. Chile offered help after the Pike River mine disaster, which happened soon after Chile's own 33 trapped miners were rescued after 69 days underground in February 2010. New Zealand returned the favour after Chile was hit by an earthquake in October the same year.

Chile and New Zealand also work together on fisheries issues in the Pacific, and both have interests in the Antarctic.

There is relatively active investment in Chile. Mr Key will visit a farm at Puerto Montt owned by Fonterra, which owns about 99 per cent of Chile's largest dairy processor, Soprole.

Geothermal investments are also increasing in Chile, including by Mighty River Power.

Population: 17.3 million.

NZ's 61st-largest trading partner.

Exports to NZ in 2012: $63 million, mainly fruit and nuts, and wood.

Imports from NZ in 2012: $76.6 million in dairy, machinery, grains and seeds.

GDP: $248 billion.

Economic growth: 5.5 per cent in 2012.

Migration: 4800 people visited NZ from Chile in 2012, 500 of them for a long-term stay; 2500 New Zealanders visited Chile last year.