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Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro’s trip to T&T two weeks ago followed the visits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Joe Biden to T&T in May.
Energy, transportation, security and building bridges with South America’s Mercosur trade bloc were some of the main issues on the agenda when Maduro visited T&T on the final day of the three-day meeting of the 34th meeting of Caricom heads of government in Port-of-Spain on July 6. This is not the first time that Venezuela and its English-speaking Caricom neighbours have met to deepen trade and other economic-related activities.
In October 1992, the Caricom/Venezuela agreement on trade and investment was signed and came into force on January 1, 1993. It allowed some Caricom products immediate duty-free access to the Venezuela market, and additional products on a phased basis. Already, steps have been taken by Venezuela and T&T to follow up on discussions that began at the Caricom heads of government meeting.
Following Maduro’s visit, a delegation from the Venezuelan Ministry of Transport visited T&T last week to deepen co-operation in the area of transportation. A statement from the Venezuelan Embassy in Port-of-Spain on Monday said this is part of the “relaunching of the historical relationship” between the two countries.
“Last week, only four days after the visit of Maduro to T&T, an important delegation from the Ministry of Water and Air Transport had meetings with T&T’s Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz and Minister of Trade Vasant Bharath, as well as a meeting with National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco),” the statement said.
Discussions were also held with regard to establishing a timeframe for new water-taxi routes as well as Venezuelan state-owned airline Conviasa establishing new routes to T&T.
According to the statement from the embassy, the Venezuelan government has proposed to offer T&T, the services of Venevega, a state-owned shipping company to help move goods within the region.
“The relationship seeks to make progress in the consolidation of the ties that bind two neighbouring peoples despite language barrier. It starts a stage of real co-operation between the two countries.”
In T&T, Maduro had said Venezuela will expand its fleet of ferries to reach the Venezuelan island of Margarita, which would eventually be extended to other Caricom territories.
In her meeting with Maduro, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said representatives of T&T will begin talks on July 23 with the Venezuelan government on energy matters, especially on resolving the long outstanding issue of the Loran Manatee field, which both countries share.
Seven trillion cubic feet (TCF) is believed to be on Venezuela’s side, while three TCF is on T&T’s side of the shared border.
“We agreed for a meeting to be convened in T&T with representatives of Venezuela on or about July 23. I am advised there is about ten TCF of recoverable gas in Block A of the Loran Manatee field,” she said.
In 1990, both nations signed a Delimitation Treaty, which sets out the terms on how to exploit hydrocarbon reserves on both sides of the border. In 2003 the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the procedure for the unification of hydrocarbon deposits.
According to BP’s Annual Statistical Review of World Energy in June 2012, Venezuela’s deposits were at 296.5 billion barrels, making it the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves. It pushed Saudi Arabia into second place, which now holds 265.4 billion barrels.
Mercosur and Unasur
Last Friday, Venezuela assumed the rotating presidency of the South American Common Market (Mercosur), which it will hold for the next six months.
This trade bloc, founded in 1991, is made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay Paraguay and Venezuela. Mercosur has five associate members—Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru—that do not enjoy full voting rights or complete access to the markets of Mercosur’s full members. They receive tariff reductions, but are not required to impose the common external tariff that applies to full Mercosur members.
The population of Mercosur’s full membership totalled more than 260 million people in 2011, including Venezuela. It has a collective gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.9 trillion and is the world’s fourth largest trading bloc after the European Union (EU), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In T&T, Maduro proposed to promote a plan to develop exchanges between the nations of Caricom and Mercosur.
He said this exchange of both economic blocs would strengthen regional integration and economic development bloc of all the countries involved.
Maduro said: “Further advance work and economic joint development in Caricom and Mercosur and move towards a consolidated development zone of our country, that the Caribbean has this huge market is Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela , Uruguay. For the Caribbean have investment and technological development that emerges of brothers.”
Apart from Mercosur, Maduro also invited T&T to be “incorporated” into Union of South American Nations (Unasur) because of its geographical proximity to the South American mainland.
Unasur consists of all the countries on the South American continent.
English speaking Guyana, which is situated on the South American mainland next to Brazil and Venezuela is a member of Caricom and also a member of Unasur.
“The 21st century is the century of development for the people of the Caribbean,” Maduro said.
During his visit, Maduro proposed a regional plan to deal with the drug trade.
“We want to build a joint Caribbean security plan. We are victims of international crime, drug trafficking, primarily. Neither of our countries is a producer or consumer of drugs, yet we are victims of those who produce the drugs,” he said.
He said Venezuela shares a long border with Colombia and continues to work hard to ensure drugs do not cross the borders the two countries share.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, who accompanied Maduro on his visit to T&T, said Venezuela’s new Minister of Defence Carmen Melendez will visit T&T to discuss security measures.