SAN FRANCISCO — The amount of money spent on Visa cards around the world exceeded $1.8 trillion last year, Visa International said Tuesday.

The figure was 21% higher than in 1999. Visa also said that the number of transactions last year rose 19%. During the peak holiday shopping season in December, Visa processed almost 4,000 transactions per second.

“Our continued double-digit growth is a very positive indication of the strength of the Visa brand,” said Malcolm Williamson, president and chief executive officer of Visa International. “Visa continues to be the payment brand of choice to our cardholders, merchants, and members as we move toward our vision of universal commerce — the ability to conduct commerce securely and conveniently anytime, anywhere, and with any type of device.”

The Visa regions where the most dramatic growth occurred were CEMEA (Central Europe-Middle East-Africa), with a 51% increase in spending volume; Asia-Pacific, with a 45% increase; and Latin America & Caribbean, with 31%.

There are currently more than a billion Visa payment cards issued globally. The Visa acceptance network has 21 million merchants and 652,000 automated teller machines.

“The continued growth we are seeing is a reflection of a variety of organizational and business initiatives undertaken in 2000, particularly the delegation of more operating control to our six regions and continued innovation in product and service offerings,” Mr. Williamson said.

Last year Visa created Inovant, its information technology and processing services subsidiary, Mr. Williamson noted. It also introduced the Global Secure e-Commerce Initiative.

Visa also helped promote the global use of smart cards with an accelerated rollout in Visa EU, the negotiation of a $3 smart card for Visa issuers, and the launch of Smart Visa in the United States, he said.

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