[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 00:04 GMT
Venezuela-US trade under the microscope
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

Oil field in Venezuela
Oil dominates Venezuela's exports - much of it going to the US

If you have followed the last 12 months of tit-for-tat insults between Venezuela and the US, you could easily be forgiven for assuming that the trade relationship between Venezuela and Washington is similarly fraught.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While President Hugo Chavez launches tirade after tirade at his counterpart in Washington and the White House responds in kind, trade between the two nations is actually going from strength to strength.

A quick glance at the latest figures speaks volumes. Just four years ago commerce - imports and exports - between Venezuela and its business partner in the North was around $20bn a year.

The latest figures released by the Venezuelan-American chamber of commerce and industry (Venamcham) shows trade has more than doubled in the last four years and now stands at around $47bn a year.

"Within the last year alone the level of imports and exports between the US and Venezuela has risen by 15%," said Venamcham chief Edmond Saade.

Almost half of goods exported from Venezuela are destined for the US, and the harsh words directed at the White House by President Chavez have done nothing to change that.

Trading friends

A closer look reveals why the trade has soared: global oil prices have risen sharply - and so the value of Venezuelan oil shipments to the US now totals close to $39bn a year.

Packed shopping mall in Caracas
Economic growth is driving demand for luxury imports

The oil industry accounts for 90% of Venezuela's exports, Mr Saade explains, with the remainder coming including textiles and food.

The US has traditionally been one of the top trading partners of Venezuela.

"We have enjoyed a stable commercial relationship with Venezuela for almost 200 years now," a spokesperson from the US State Department told the BBC.

"It's withstood the test of time. It has also endured some difficult patches we've had in the past."

As for trade coming the other way, almost a third of Venezuela's imports are sourced from the US.

The South American country's economy has been growing by some 9% a year, pushing up the demand for luxury goods such as cars, clothes and electronic goods to record levels.

Talk the talk, walk the walk

There is a clear recognition by the authorities in Caracas that however frosty the bilateral rhetoric and politics might get, trade between Venezuela and North America is indispensable.

"At the end of the day, the US still is and has been our main commercial partner," Jorge Valero, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for North American affairs, told the BBC.

"Aside from some of our political differences, we can always count on our American partners to do business with us."

Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez rarely misses an opportunity to castigate the US

Venezuela is looking to sell more and more oil to the South East Asian markets - particularly China, with its voracious demand for raw materials and energy to keep its own breakneck growth going.

But it remains very difficult to imagine a day when President Hugo Chavez might turn off the taps to the US in terms of crude oil supplies.

For the time being, there is no real substitute for the US as a petroleum customer.

If Venezuela does want to turn its back on America for oil sales, it may take another decade to get to that point.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific