EFEMontevideo

The government is working to settle a $70 million debt Venezuela owes to Uruguayan exporters via an exchange for oil, Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa said Wednesday.

"This pertains, basically, to dairy products and other products, such as chemicals and textiles," Nin Novoa said. "The government has an inter-ministerial commission working to find options to settle the debt through some compensation in our purchases of oil from Venezuela."

The foreign minister spoke with reporters about the issue after attending a conference on Uruguay's global strategy at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Montevideo.

The situation with Venezuela is the "result of trade competition" with New Zealand, a country that has returned as a dairy products supplier to Venezuela, Nin Novoa said.

"Venezuela traditionally imported dairy products from New Zealand," the foreign minister said. "When Venezuela joined Mercosur, it didn't have to pay tariffs anymore. Uruguay and Argentina became its main suppliers of dairy products and we pushed New Zealand a bit aside."

"Now, Venezuela is bringing products from New Zealand in again," Nin Novoa said. "It is a matter of trade competition."

Uruguayan Exporters Union, or UEU, economist Maria Laura Rodriguez, for her part, said the problem worsened last year when oil prices fell, but the situation predates the drop in the price of Venezuela's main export commodity.

"Uruguayan exporters have had problems for many years getting paid by Venezuela," Rodriguez said. "Venezuelan importers face difficulties in obtaining the dollars they need to pay for overseas purchases and it has become more difficult for Uruguayan exporters to collect on debts."