Argentina to continue fuel-for-food deal with Venezuela
Argentina and Venezuela will extend this year's fuel-for-food accord over the coming years, allowing Argentina to
continue importing diesel and gas and oil from its South American neighbour if its current natural gas and power
shortages remain a problem.
"Yes, in reality, the window remains open not only for 2006, the window of the accord that we signed in April remains open so that it can be extended over some time," Planning Minister Julio De Vido told.
De Vido is in Venezuela for the Venezuela-Argentina Business Roundtable on Margarita Island, which has brought
together hundreds of exporters and importers for the countries. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner is to arrive
In April, Argentina signed a $ 240 mm contract with Venezuela that allowed Kirchner's government to import around 1 mm tons of diesel, gas and oil. The Venezuelans can receive cash for the imports or can request agricultural imports from Argentina as payment.
The fuel imports have been crucial to Argentina's ability to overcome what threatened to be its worst energy crisis
in years -- reducing natural gas demand by around 7 mm cm daily -- or some 5 % of Argentine natural gas demand. That
has lifted pressure on the government, which was widely accused of mishandling the already difficult energy situation
since it took office in May 2003.
De Vido said Argentina has already used up 700,000 tons of the 1 mm earmarked for this year. On whether the government planned to import the same amount in 2005 and 2006, De Vido said this would depend on Argentina's energy situation.
The fuel is purchased through Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA. A new accord would help
the two countries boost their bilateral trade, which amounted to $ 151 mm in 2003. A Venezuelan official said he
expected that number to hit $ 500 mm this year.
Meanwhile, De Vido also confirmed that PdVSA is moving ahead with its plans to establish a presence in Argentina. He said that the company would set up offices in Buenos Aires in September, run by company official Alejandro Gomez, who negotiated the fuel-for-food accord with Argentina.
De Vido said there were still no firm plans for PdVSA to set up service stations in Argentina, though it was
something the governments were talking about.
"In the case of the service stations, this is an old conversation that we have with PdVSA. It is a pending theme," De Vido said.
He said he had discussed the matter with PdVSA President Ali Rodriguez, who indicated it was an issue that would advance once the company set up its Argentine offices. De Vido said the accord with Venezuela and a broader gas-import deal with Bolivia -- expected to be announced later -- meant the government not only had subdued this year's energy crisis, but had also defused potential problems in coming years.
"The government has completely contained... the energy possibilities for 2005 and 2006," he told.
De Vido said a key part of the government's plans is the launching of state energy company Enarsa. He said he expects
the senate will approve the new company, though there have been some murmurings in congress about where the money
will come from to fund the government's planned projects.
However, analysts raise doubts about whether Argentina has its energy situation under control. Pointing out that this year's crisis was only avoided by the importing of more expensive fuel -- costing the Treasury an extra 2 bn pesos ($ 1 = ARS 2.955) -- they say the country needs large-scale investment in the next 12 months to avoid continued gas shortages in 2005 and a potential power crisis in 2006, when electricity demand is expected to outstrip generation capacity. Analysts say that with gas and power rates still largely frozen following the 2002 economic crisis, the necessary investment levels will be hard to attain.