With a potential threat from the Panama Canal expansion and the increased trade opportunities, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced plans for a 10-day, five-city tour of South America later this month.

The Nov. 24-Dec.3 trip, which will include city officials along with business and tourism officials, will be the first South American trip by a sitting Los Angeles mayor since the 1985 trip by former Mayor Tom Bradley.

Villaraigosa said he hopes to encourage airlines from Brazil, Chile and Colombia to have more direct flights into Los Angeles and to encourage companies to use the Port of Los Angeles for shipping.

"South America has one of the world's fastest growing middle classes, and they have grabbed the world's attention," Villaraigosa said. "Tapping into these fresh markets presents new opportunities for economic growth in Los Angeles. The city must act now to remain competitive with other U.S. cities and states pursuing the same business."

The cost of the trip is estimated at $252,000 with the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports picking up the expenses.

As part of the trip, the Los Angeles Regional Export Council will lead a delegation of Los Angeles-based companies to explore export opportunities. Chief among these are fashion firms and high-tech companies.

On tourism, the mayor will discuss the LAX modernization program and seek to increase the number of visitors to the city by having more direct nonstop flights.

Villaraigosa has made trade missions previously to Asia, Europe and Mexico.

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