BankAmerica Corp. will expand its corporate banking activities in Latin America as the Western Hemisphere moves toward a single free trade zone over the next several years, said a senior-level bank executive.

"There is a very strong movement toward reform and integration across Latin America," said Federico Sacasa, the bank's newly named group executive vice president in charge of the region. "We believe that common rules and regulatory environments will be good for the region, and we plan to broaden our penetration of the Latin American market."

Mr. Sacasa named Peru and Central America as two markets where corporate banking expansion is likely to take place. "A lot of our customers now do business in both markets," he said.

He added that BankAmerica is considering the establishment of retail banking operations in the region.

BankAmerica's interest in expanding in Latin America is tied to an effort to create a trade zone that covers both North and South America. In December 1994 the heads of state of Western Hemisphere countries met in Miami and committed themselves to setting up a single North-South American free trade zone by 2005. A second meeting to reinforce this initiative is scheduled to be held in Santiago, Chile, in April.

Mr. Sacasa, 46, a Nicaraguan native, noted that the establishment of a single free trade zone and the accompanying standardization of financial practices will help spur the growth of financial markets in the region.

He added that he did not expect the current financial turmoil in Asia to spill over into Latin America.

"I think Latin America has paid its dues and learned its lessons," he said. "They don't call the 1980s the lost decade for nothing."

This month Mr. Sacasa took over as the top-ranking executive for Latin America from Barbara Z. Otto, who is taking a leave of absence. Mr. Sacasa, who previously served as head of sales, marketing, and product management for the bank's global payment services, joined BankAmerica in 1988.

He held a variety of positions around the globe for the bank before returning to San Francisco in 1993 to start up an international trade banking unit. Before joining BankAmerica, Mr. Sacasa worked for Wells Fargo & Co. and Banco de Credito del Peru.

BankAmerica is the largest originator of commercial paper programs for Latin American borrowers and was also ranked as the top Latin American loan syndicator by Loan Pricing Corporation, with 74 transactions valued at $20 billion last year. The bank has offices in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Venezuela and is now looking at extending its activities to other countries.

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