President Nestor Kirchner and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez signed accords on Friday to boost energy and agriculture cooperation. The highlight was a treaty to work toward the creation of a South American organization to coordinate exports of natural gas, signed in a ceremony at Argentina's suburban presidential residence.
The agreements, including a bid to jointly expand production of gas-fueled vehicles, appeared to present a symbolic counterpoint to initiatives by the United States and Brazil to promote greater use of ethanol-fueled vehicles. Neither Kirchner nor Chavez directly referred to Bush's visit during the ceremony, signing the agreements as they lauded their independent efforts to expand their economies. "These agreements are vital for the development of our countries. They represent moves toward a more diversified economy, toward self-sufficiency in food sources and sovereignty over our energy resources" Chavez said. Kirchner said the agreements would help Argentina continue to rebound from a deep 2002 economic crisis. Kirchner saluted Chavez as 'my friend Hugo,' and added: 'Your assistance ... is helping to move Argentina forward.' According to Chavez's plans, the South American organization for the export of natural gas would be based upon the principles of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. But few details were given and no timetable was released for launching the group. The two presidents also agreed to incorporate Bolivia into a working group aimed at creating a multilateral South American development bank to be known as the Banco del Sur. The group was created during Kirchner's visit to Caracas last month. The other agreements were for joint venture companies, both state and private, in natural gas and agriculture. Some of the agreements linked state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, into arrangements with private Argentine manufacturers and companies in areas outside of its usual field of energy interests. PDVSA agreed to work with a local group on manufacturing compressed natural gas-fueled buses. Grupo Los Grobo, a privately held Argentine agribusiness firm, will join with a newly formed agribusiness unit of Venezuela's state oil monopoly, called PDV Agricola, to boost agricultural development in Venezuela. Argentina and Venezuela also agreed to jointly cooperate on scientific and technological improvements to boost agricultural outputs in the Venezuelan state of Bolivar. And the countries signed a commercial agreement to expand four research centers on potato crops and agreed to work together on the construction of two animal reproductive biotech labs in Venezuela. Venezuela has been a generous contributor to Argentina's finances through the purchase of sovereign bonds (estimated in 4 billion US dollars), helping to recover the Argentine ship building industry by ordering several tankers and last week extended a 135 million US dollars credit to the country's main dairy cooperative (SanCor) which is in the verge of bankruptcy and was a target for international financer George Soros.