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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will visit Japan in early April to meet with Prime Minister Taro Aso, the country’s visiting energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, said Thursday.

Ramirez announced Chavez’s planned visit when speaking to reporters after meeting with Aso at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

Ramirez told Aso that Chavez is looking forward to visiting Japan in the near future, a Foreign Ministry official said.

He also expressed hope that Japanese companies will actively participate in the country’s crude oil and liquefied natural gas development, while Aso said the government would like to support such projects as he believes there is strong business interest in these pursuits, the official said.

Chavez is known for his anti-American stance. His visit to Japan would be his second following one in 1999, the year he took office, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Chavez and Aso are expected to discuss measures to expand bilateral economic relations, including boosting Venezuelan exports to Japan and cooperation on LNG projects in Venezuela.

Energy agreement

Japan and Venezuela struck a deal Thursday to deepen cooperation in the area of energy development, industry ministry officials said.

It is the first time that Japan has signed a memorandum of understanding on the development of energy sources, including oil and liquefied natural gas, with a South American country, according to the officials.

Japan has been trying to diversify its suppliers in recent years to secure a stable supply of natural resources.

Japan, which is staking its future on nuclear energy, depends on the Middle East for 90 percent of its crude oil imports.

The memorandum does not contain any details regarding projects the two countries could launch in the future, the officials said.

But they said the document will serve as the first step toward mapping out development projects with Venezuela, which possesses some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas.

The memorandum was signed by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai and Venezuela’s energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, in Tokyo.

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