CARACAS, Thursday April 20, 2006 | Update
The Presidents of Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia met in Asunción to address construction of a regional gas pipeline (Photo: AFP)
During a presentation Wednesday on plans to build the 12,000 km southern gas pipeline, President Hugo Chávez in Asunción offered Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay to remove import tariffs from goods Venezuela may import from those countries.
When summarizing energy integration plans for the region, Chávez asked for "an additional minute" to talk about Cuba-Venezuela relations.
"Trade did not exceed USD 100 million, and one year ago (Cuban President) Fidel (Castro) and I initialed an agreement including new terms in accordance with the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a Chávez-proposed alternative to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.) Last year -the first year of the agreement-, bilateral trade -fair trade- went up USD 1.5 billion. Based on the principle that asymmetries need to be acknowledged, we are willing to make the necessary steps to draft templates for such fair trade agreements. I like this term because I do not believe in that thing people call free trade. Let us not follow that path."
"Regarding trade, we are ready to adopt a model under which Venezuela removes import tariffs from Paraguayan soy or Bolivian coca. We need food stock, as we do not have it. Therefore, we could prepare an extraordinary imports plan."
On the gas pipeline
In Chávez' view, "the gas pipeline is like a shot to the floor, you cannot miss! Everything indicates that not only the gas pipeline is actually feasible, but also it is necessary. We do find it indispensable that you join us in the design of this project. If Venezuela were thinking of money, I would not be here. Last December, because of intense cold in the United States BTUs were at USD 15, and here we are never going to sell it at that price. What we do believe is that gas could become the cornerstone of regional integration."
Both Chávez and his Uruguayan counterpart Tabaré Vázquez told reporters that the southern gas pipeline -comprising Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina- could later -in a second phase of construction- connect to the pipeline Uruguay, Bolivia and Uruguay are planning to lay. On Wednesday, they initialed agreements for feasibility surveys.
Vázquez explained that surveys could be completed by the end of this year. At that time, they could estimate costs and funding -the Andean Community of Nations is likely to fund this tripartite project. Subsequently, the Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia duct could connect to the pipeline taking gas from Venezuela to South America. Connection with Central America and the Caribbean has not been ruled out.
Additionally, after complaining for the role foreign oil firms played in Venezuela, Chávez invited Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia to participate in projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt. "We are exploiting the Orinoco Oil Belt and want you to go there with your state oil companies."
Next week, Chávez said, and under the Caracas Energy Agreement Paraguay has joined, a first Venezuelan crude oil shipment is to arrive in Paraguayan refinery Villa Elisa, which is to be expanded in the middle term.
Translated by Maryflor Suárez R.