Venezuela and Colombia Sign Bilateral Trade Agreement, Advance Normalization

The new bilateral agreement with Colombia and the reopening of the maritime border with Aruba are further blows to efforts to isolate Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Gustavo Petro hold up signed copies of a new bilateral trade agreement.

Mexico City, Mexico, February 21, 2023 ( – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Gustavo Petro met Thursday in the Venezuelan border-state of Táchira to sign an updated bilateral trade agreement.

“This is one more step for the integration of both countries, a process that should never have been suspended,” said Petro during the signing ceremony on the Atanasio Girardot International Bridge that connects the two nations.

The meeting between Maduro and Petro is the latest step in the effort by both countries to advance the normalization of relations, which comes after previous meetings in Caracas, last year in November as well as in early January.

“Our relations have been taking on a new dynamic: one of political dialogue; diplomatic dialogue; a new economic, commercial, and population dynamic,” said Maduro during the televised summit.

The agreement concerns trade regulations, tariffs and investment conditions for both countries following the official reopening of the border in September.

“New winds are blowing,” Maduro added.

The Venezuelan president commented that the country has been embroiled in what he called an “economic war” after the imposition of US sanctions that severely hampered the country’s foreign income, which derived principal from oil sales. Experts have said Washington’s unilateral coercive measures essentially constitute an oil blockade, while other sectors of the Venezuelan economy have likewise been targeted.

With the imposition of sanctions curtailing Venezuela’s ability to import essential goods, the country was forced to quickly diversify its revenue sources. Maduro said the new agreement provides an updated framework that reflects these changes in the Venezuelan economy.

“[The agreement] sets the stage for a new dynamic of an expansion of trade between Colombia and Venezuela,” emphasized the Venezuelan president.

In their speeches to the assembled audience that included high-level officials, ambassadors and regional representatives, both leaders placed heavy emphasis on the need for bilateral integration and their shared history as “brother” countries.

Maduro made reference to an effort to create a “binational special economic zone” to boost economic activity in the border area. The Venezuelan president credited Táchira governor Freddy Bernal as the driving force behind the push to create a “special economic zone” (SEZ).

Business interests in both countries have been vocal about their interest in the creation of a SEZ in the border region. In July, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved legislation concerning the creation of these zones in the country. SEZs have generated fierce debate within Chavismo as some analysts criticize excessive advantages granted to private investors.

Thursday’s agreement is the latest signal that the Venezuelan government is moving closer toward the creation of a SEZ in the border region. The projects target areas with potential for heavy trade and commerce.

The new bilateral agreement is also another sign marking the end of efforts to isolate the Venezuelan government. Similarly, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yván Gil announced Thursday that the Caribbean country had secured a deal with the Netherlands to reopen the maritime border with the Caribbean island of Aruba.

After joining Washington in breaking ties with the Venezuelan government and recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó, European nations have gradually moved to reestablish ties with Caracas. Last month, President Maduro formally accepted the credentials of Ramón Santos Martínez, Spain’s new ambassador to Venezuela.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.