Colombia and Venezuela sign deal to revive trade

Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro react during a meeting for signing the Partial Scope Agreement Number 28 that will resume bilateral trade between Colombia and Venezuela at the Atanasio Girardot International Bridge on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, February 16, 2023. Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

BOGOTA/CARACAS (Reuters) - Colombia and Venezuela on Thursday signed an agreement to revive trade between the two countries during a ceremony on a border bridge at which Colombia's President Gustavo Petro and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro both signed.

The deal "updates everything having to do with tariffs, with goods traded, (and) lays the foundations for a new dynamic, for the expansion of trade between Colombia and Venezuela," Maduro said at the event broadcast on Venezuelan state television.

Diplomatic and trade relations began a process of normalization in September 2022 after Petro was inaugurated in Bogota last August after pledging during his campaign to normalize diplomatic relations with the government in Caracas.

"We have to fill these bridges with trade," Petro said, warning that "there is lots still to do because it is not a question of whether these bridges are filled with trade but rather than they are filled with people."

The Colombian leader said the some 2,200-kilometer (1,367-mile) border between the two countries had long fell into the hands of "mafia groups, who, immersed in conflict and illegal economies, made (the border) their domain."

In January Petro traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro. They discussed trade along with peace talks between Petro's government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group.

Venezuela is a guarantor of the peace talks with the ELN and the first round of renewed negotiations between Colombia and the rebel group took place in Caracas last year.

Early on Thursday, Venezuela's National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling Socialist Party, approved appointment of former general Carlos Eduardo Martinez as the Caribbean country's ambassador to Colombia.

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 rebel groups and criminals, accusations he has denied.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota and Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by David Gregorio)

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