The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela pledged on Saturday to invest US$100 million each in a special fund in hopes of boosting cross-border trade as the world economic crisis slashes global demand for their exports.
The cash will help create small businesses and should finance infrastructure projects along the border, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said after four hours of talks in the Caribbean port of Cartagena with his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe.
“Nobody knows where this crisis might go,” Chavez told a televised news conference.
Trade between the two nations reached a record US$7.2 billion last year, and Chavez said they should aim for US$10 billion a year this year and next. Both neighbors are looking to prevent the global slowdown from crimping commerce and spurring unemployment.
Once-rapid growth in Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy is slowing with falling crude prices, while Colombia has seen textile sales decline. Caracas is Colombia’s biggest trade partner after the US, making it especially vulnerable to a slowdown in Venezuela.
Chavez and Uribe also discussed ways to boost primary manufacturing so car components can be made locally from the region’s natural resources, reducing reliance on imports, Chavez said.
Venezuela agreed to consider easing quotas on Colombian automobile imports, including trucks, buses and vehicles that burn natural gas, Chavez said.
As he arrived for the meeting, Chavez was asked about his alleged support for leftist rebels who have been trying to overthrow Colombia’s government.
Electronic documents found on a slain rebel’s computer last year suggest he offered the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, an open-ended loan of several hundred million dollars.
“If I were backing any kind of subversive, terrorist or violent movement in Colombia I wouldn’t be here,” Chavez said. “What would I do here?”