- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

TOKYO (AP) - Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed Monday to deepen ties in energy, investment and trade, with Japanese companies ready to participate in gas and crude production in the Latin American country.

Aso and Chavez decided to set up a working team to discuss details of Japanese investment in heavy crude production in Venezuela’s oil-rich Orinoco River basin, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chavez, on a two-day visit to Tokyo, has expressed hopes to get Japanese companies to participate as minority partners in a joint venture with state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA in the Orinoco project.

Baseball topped the agenda before the two leaders got down to business.

Chavez, known as an avid baseball fan, promised that his country, which lost to South Korea in the semifinal in the World Baseball Classic last month, will be the winner next time. Japan won the title for a second time in a row.

Chavez canceled a scheduled news conference later Monday for an unspecified reason, an embassy official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. The president also postponed his departure, initially scheduled for later Monday, until Tuesday.

Japanese officials said they were not informed of the reason for the changes.

Chavez was accompanied by top officials including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez. The Venezuelan government, which relies on oil for about 93 percent of its exports, has been hit by a fall in oil income and is seeking foreign investment for its oil industry.

Chavez met with Japanese executives from energy companies interested in investing in oil production in the South American nation, according to the president’s office.

Chavez has said Venezuela expects $500 million in Japanese investment to help upgrade Venezuela’s Puerto La Cruz refinery.

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