China's Xi eyes Trinidad-Tobago's energy assets

PORT OF SPAIN (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks on Saturday on the Asian giant's energy needs with leaders of Trinidad, a major oil exporter and potential clean-energy source for Beijing.

"We both agree to actively advance cooperation in key areas such infrastructure development, energy and minerals and also to continue to advance our cooperation in new areas of mutual and beneficial cooperation such as agriculture, telecommunications and new energy," Mr Xi told reporters after talks with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and President Anthony Carmona.

Mr Xi and Mr Persad-Bissessar signed memoranda on bolstering bilateral technical, economic and cultural cooperation.

"Today is an historical day in for us," Mr Persad-Bissessar said, hailing this landmark first visit by a Chinese president to this Caribbean nation or 1.3 million, a former British colony just off Venezuela's coast.

And on "energy, we noted that China is increasingly involved in our energy sector. We see China as a key business partner and potential new market for our energy products," she stressed.

Trinidad, which has vast oil resources as well as natural gas, earns 40 percent of its income from the energy sector, which makes up 80 per cent of its exports, government data show.

Mr Kevin Ramnarine, the Trinidadian Energy Minister, told reporters that energy cooperation could be a boon to both nations.

"Energy is set to feature very prominently in bilateral meeting," he said Friday.

"One of the issues that, of course, will raised is China's dependence on energy. It's growing as their economy grows," he noted.

China is the largest consumer of energy. And most of that energy in China is coming from one source, coal.

"Coal, as you know, is not the cleanest fuel and this has impacted on the environment in China," Mr Ramnarine said. "There is a strategy in China to move the country away from coal and towards (cleaner) natural gas."

Mr Xi, who arrived here on the first leg of a Latin America and Caribbean tour aiming to strengthen Beijing's trade ties in the region, heads to Costa Rica and Mexico, ahead of a June 7-8 summit with US President Barack Obama.

His visit to Trinidad follows a trip to Port of Spain on May 27 by US Vice-President Joe Biden, who attended a summit with Caribbean leaders. Mr Xi is scheduled to leave Trinidad on Sunday.

China's trade ties with Latin America have soared in recent years as the world's second biggest economy taps into the region's mineral and oil wealth to fuel growth.

Mr Xi - who took office in March in a once-in-a-decade power transfer in Communist-ruled Beijing - said ahead of the trip that he had "full confidence in the prospects of China-Latin America relations."

Mr Xi also was due to meet Saturday with Persad-Bissessar and other senior Trinidad and Tobago officials, as well as the leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Granada, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname.