President Hugo Chavez said China is set to rival the United States as Venezuela's top oil buyer as he announced new plans with the Asian powerhouse to jointly ship oil, build refineries and expand crude production.
Chavez, speaking Friday after meeting with an official from the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp, told reporters that, "As a power, the United States is going down, while China is moving up." Chavez said Venezuela was on track to reach its goal of raising oil sales to China to 1 million barrels a day by 2012 from its current level of about 150,000 barrels a day. "When we begin speaking of 1 million barrels of crude, we're nearing the level of Venezuelan supplies to the United States," Chavez said. Venezuela currently ships about 1.5 million barrels a day to the United States. "We do not deny what a big market the United States is ÃÂ¢€" one we have maintained and are resolved and interested in maintaining, as well as our refineries there and our great company, Citgo (Petroleum Corp)," he said. "But now Venezuela is diversifying." Chavez announced plans for Venezuela and China to build three refineries in China that will process a total of 800,000 barrels a day of heavy Venezuelan crude. "In two years these refineries should be ready, built. Within two or three years," he said. Chavez also said the two countries decided to start a joint oil shipping company with its own tankers to carry crude and other products between Venezuela and China, as well as to other world markets. Venezuela will also allow China to expand its oil exploration activities in the Orinoco River region, Chavez said. Chavez said that the agreements "places us without doubt as one of (China's) most important partners, I think, not just on the continent but in the world."