November 13, 2005

Chavez: Few gains for Venezuela in Andean Community

By Matthew Robinson

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - The Mercosur trade bloc
would offer Venezuela more benefits than the country derives
from the Andean Community, where some members are seeking a
trade deal with Washington, President Hugo Chavez said on

Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia -- which with Venezuela and
Bolivia make up the Andean Community -- have been in talks with
the United States over a trade accord since May 2004.

Chavez, a fierce opponent of U.S. President George W. Bush,
has rejected the proposed free-trade deal and called U.S.
economic policies in South America a form of "imperialism" that
hurts the region.

"Venezuela has nothing to gain from the current Andean
Community, nothing. ... It is possible that the situation will
change in the future, but some of those countries are
negotiating a free-trade agreement with the United States,"
Chavez said on his weekly television and radio show.

"What is our path? Mercosur," he added, without elaborating
on Venezuela's future relationship with the Andean Community.

Negotiations for the U.S.-Andean trade deal have been
delayed by slow progress on intellectual property issues such
as drug patent protections and agriculture.

Chavez said last month Venezuela would become a full member
of Mercosur by December. Venezuela, already an associate member
of the trade pact, has been pushing for full membership in the
trade pact that groups the Southern Cone countries of
Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The left-wing leader has blasted Latin American nations
seeking stronger economic ties with the United States.

Earlier this month, Chavez declared the U.S.-backed Free
Trade Area of the Americas proposal "dead and buried" during
the Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

Last week, he called Mexican President Vicente Fox the "lap
dog" of U.S. imperialism after Fox promoted the free-trade pact
during the summit.

The world's fifth-biggest crude exporter, Venezuela is a
top supplier of oil and fuel to the United States. But
relations with Washington have deteriorated since Chavez first
won office in 1998 and increased ties with anti-U.S. states
such as Cuba and Iran.

Chavez has used Venezuela's vast energy resources to build
regional alliances to counter U.S. influence and further his
drive toward greater regional integration.