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Venezuela mulls revival of neglected ports
by Staff Writers
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Jan 11, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Venezuela is pushing for an early regeneration of its maritime and defense port facilities, neglected over many years and found to be lacking in basic infrastructural capacity.

Moves for the development and refurbishment of the country's ports so far have attracted a major Chinese investor, China Harbor Engineering Co., which pledged an initial $600 million. More suitors are expected to follow CHEC to gain access to a key part of the oil exporter's infrastructure.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also signed agreements with Russia that are likely to result in supply and local assembly of a range of naval defense craft, including submarines, defense and security data showed.

Chavez launched a major military buildup as tensions with Colombia over guerrilla activities worsened in 2009. In recent months, however, Colombia has receded from Venezuelan populist rhetoric about "threats" facing the country but the United States still ranks as a potential "threat."

Several naval incidents brought the United States -- called "the empire" -- in Venezuelan press reports and Chavez in one incident claimed his forces chased off a nuclear powered submarine, without giving any details.

Most defense procurements have been geared toward equipping Venezuelan military preparedness to protect its oil resources. In 2010 Venezuela surpassed Saudi Arabia as the country with the largest reserves of oil and gas.

Most of the Chinese investment will likely go into building a new terminal at the Puerto Cabello, Venezuela's major port on the Caribbean coast. The work undertaken will include dredging and the construction of berths to enable the port to accommodate Post-Panamax vessels, Business Monitor International said.

Puerto Cabello declined after it was nationalized by Chavez in March 2009, when Venezuela's National Assembly voted to hand over control of the country's transport links, which were previously under state level control, to federal authorities.

As a result, Puerto Cabello, Maracaibo and Porlamar went under federal control and suffered a heavy decline in their performance. CHEC's arrival on the scene is likely to reverse those trends.

The Chinese company has 31 overseas branches and is the second-largest dredging company in the world. Although CHEC is capable of fixing many of the efficiency and management problems at Puerto Cabello, analysts said political change was also required to restore Venezuela's ports to their full potential.

Venezuela has been in recession since 2009 but made small gains toward economic recovery in 2011. Its imports last year exceeded $86.36 billion while exports totaled $108.5 billion on the back of greater oil revenues.

How much of the investment into maritime and naval facilities will directly benefit the Venezuelan navy remains unclear. The navy has 14,000 personnel and about 4,000 conscripts in its ranks and has been ordering frigates, patrol craft and other naval equipment from European suppliers. After recent agreements with Moscow, Caracas hinted at acquisition of up to six submarines.

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Oil exporters to up output if Iran embargoed: France
Paris (AFP) Jan 10, 2012 - If Iran is hit with an oil embargo over its nuclear policy, other major exporters will increase their production in order to steady world markets, the French foreign minister said Tuesday.

"Other countries are ready to increase production to avoid an effect on prices. We have made discreet contacts in this direction. The producers don't want to talk about it, but they are standing ready," Alain Juppe said.

Briefing a French parliamentary committee, Juppe said he did not share some lawmakers' pessimism over the prospects for an embargo on Iranian crude.

Several Western powers, including Britain and France, are pushing for stronger economic sanctions to be imposed on Iran's Islamic regime in order to force it to abandon a nuclear programme they allege is destined to produce atomic bombs.

But China and some other major energy consumers are opposed to any embargo that could cut off oil supplies from the Gulf and boost oil prices at a moment when the world economy is teetering on the brink of recession.

Juppe admitted some European oil importers, including Italy and Greece, were also nervous about losing Iranian exports, but said: "We are trying to convince our partners that there are other sources of supply."

The French minister said he hoped to have all EU members on board for tougher sanctions before a European foreign minister's meeting on January 23.

During a visit to Paris, Italy's Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata said he supported an embargo.

"We are partners with France in this initiative," he said. "We favour measures that could lead in a few months to oil sanctions."

Iran is the world's third largest oil exporter, shipping around 2.4 million barrels per day, and the regime depends on oil sales for 60 percent of its revenue, having made around $100 billion last year.

Taking this oil off the market would be a shock in itself, but Iran has also threatened to disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, which could cut supplies from Saudi Arabia and other major Gulf producers.


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Geithner presses China leaders on Iran oil imports
Beijing (AFP) Jan 11, 2012
Beijing urged Iran to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday, as US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner held talks with Chinese leaders to press sanctions against the oil-rich nation. But China, which buys 20-22 percent of Iran's crude oil, said it was "not reasonable" to expect it to comply with what it says are "unilateral" sanctions imposed by the United States. The new U ... read more

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