Venezuela, Colombia leaders discuss oil pipeline

CARACAS, Venezuela — The presidents of Venezuela and Colombia said Monday that they plan to boost trade and are looking to build a pipeline to carry Venezuelan oil to Colombia's Pacific coast.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the plan to build the oil pipeline is of "transcendent importance." He said an agreement signed Monday will form joint companies for building the pipeline from Venezuela's oil fields across Colombia to the Pacific.

It's unclear how long the project might take or how much it would cost.

Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said the pipeline would carry Venezuela's heavy crude from the Orinoco River basin as well as Colombian oil.

Asked if Chinese investment could support the project, Ramirez said: "It's a possibility of investment or financing. We were discussing all those issues."


Venezuela has sought to increase oil sales to China, and Chinese officials last week signed $6 billion in new loans to the Venezuelan government aiming to boost the country's oil industry.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had previously discussed the possibility of such a pipeline in 2005 with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, but they didn't follow through on the idea and their relationship later deteriorated.

Chavez said Monday that he hopes to boost trade with Colombia to as much as $7 billion a year. Trade between the neighbors last year stood at about $1.5 billion after plunging amid diplomatic tensions from more than $6 billion in 2008.

Chavez broke ties with Colombia last year after allegations by Uribe that rebel leaders were taking refuge in Venezuela, an accusation that Chavez denied. The governments restored ties after Santos took office in August 2010.

Among other agreements signed Monday, Colombia is to participate in joint oil projects in Venezuela. Santos said the countries had also agreed to build a small power plant to supply electricity to people living in two towns along the countries' border.

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