Colombia, Venezuela set to reopen cargo trade at two major crossings

Venezuelans walk over the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, before the official reopening of the border, in Cucuta, Colombia September 25, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

SAN ANTONIO DE TACHIRA, Venezuela/CUCUTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia and Venezuela are set on Monday to reopen cargo transport at two major border crossings, potentially enabling billions of dollars in trade after years of icy bilateral relations and heavily-restricted economic ties.

The re-opening - which will see goods like coal, toilet paper and fruit moved through crossings between the Colombian city of Cucuta and the Venezuelan state of Tachira - was a key campaign promise of Colombia's new leftist President Gustavo Petro.

Petro is set to mark the re-opening in Cucuta. It was unclear if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would attend.

An official schedule from authorities in Tachira said merchandise would begin to be transported cross-border at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT).

Four trucks from company Transporte Condor were loaded with toilet paper, plastic glasses, medical supplies and textiles to cross early on Monday from Cucuta.

The goods, weighing 120 tonnes, are valued at some $80,000, manager Diego Bohorquez said.

Reuters witnesses saw trucks loaded with what appeared to be aluminum making their way to Colombia.

The border has already been opened to pedestrians, with many Venezuelans crossing to buy basic goods amid their country's long-running economic crisis.

Cargo transport had previously only been allowed through one northern crossing.

The border has long been home to dozens of irregular crossings, fuel and food smuggling and drug trafficking.

Merchants on both sides of the 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) frontier have been eagerly awaiting the normalization since Petro's June election, hopeful open trade will allow them access to raw materials and new customers.

Trade between the two countries could total more than $600 million this year, the Colombian government has said. It totaled $7 billion in 2008, before Venezuela's then-president Hugo Chavez froze it to protest a Bogota-Washington military deal.

Caracas broke off relations with Bogota in 2019 after Venezuelan opposition activists tried to send aid trucks from Colombia. Maduro's government said it was a front for an attempted coup.

Previous governments in Bogota have accused Maduro of harboring Colombian armed militants, accusations he has denied.

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco in San Antonio de Tachira, Venezuela and Cucuta, Colombia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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