By Associated Press Writer
updated 2/14/2005 1:34:58 PM ET 2005-02-14T18:34:58

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, signed bilateral trade agreements on Monday in their effort to establish a strategic economic alliance between the two South American nations.

Chavez and Lula da Silva signed a series cooperation accords, including joint ventures between the two countries' state-owned oil companies hinged on building a refinery in northeastern Brazil with technical assistance from Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, and opening Venezuelan oil fields to exploration by Brazil's Petrobras.

Lula da Silva, speaking to business leaders and diplomats at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, said the meeting was "a special moment in which the two countries are establishing a true strategic alliance."

Chavez, a strong proponent of Latin American integration as means of negotiating with powerful countries like the United States on even ground, called the meeting "a critical development for our integration."

Other agreements signed Monday included deals to cooperate on agricultural and scientific development, increase commercial trade, and build bridges and highways connecting to two neighboring countries.

Chavez said Venezuela was willing to ink other trade deals with fellow South American nations, including Argentina, instead of the United States, even if it would meant lower profits for oil-rich Venezuela.

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