By Associated Press, Thursday, April 21, 6:30 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela will leave the Andean Community of Nations trade pact Friday after 38 years as a member, and it has yet to reach new long-term trade agreements with two of the bloc’s other countries.
President Hugo Chavez announced in 2006 that Venezuela was leaving the five-nation group after fellow members Peru and Colombia approved free trade deals with the United States. Venezuela had to give five years’ notice, which expires Friday.
Chavez’s socialist government has in the past month signed new agreements with two members of the bloc, close allies Bolivia and Ecuador. The terms have not been released.
Venezuelan officials say they have agreed with Colombia and Peru to extend trade rules for three months while new accords are negotiated.
However, Venezuela-Colombia business chamber president Luis Alberto Russian said Venezuela’s departure from the bloc creates uncertainty because “no document that we know of exists today” to regulate trade between the two neighbors.
“We’re leaving a framework that’s advanced, with rules … and we’re going to something that we don’t know what it’s going to be,” Russian told The Associated Press. “The uncertainty affects confidence.”
Adalid Contreras, the Bolivian secretary-general of the Andean Community, expressed confidence earlier this week that Venezuela’s withdrawal will not affect trade among the five Andean countries, which last year stood at about $7 billion.
Because Venezuela’s trade with Colombia accounted for a large portion of the total, Venezuela’s departure is a “mortal blow for the future of the Andean Community,” said Carlos Romero, a political science professor at the Central University of Venezuela.
Romero said it’s natural for Venezuela to be leaving the bloc given Chavez’s political interest in building the socialist-oriented Bolivarian Alliance trade pact that he has championed.
The group has been a vehicle for Chavez to promote regional integration. It includes Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro met last week with his Peruvian counterpart, Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde, and said the effort to come up with new trade agreements is part of a broader effort to create a “new framework of economic relations.”
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