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Stephanie Pearce - Twenty-First Century Countertrade: Exploring the Extent, Impact and Rationale of Venezuelan Countertrading, 2004-2011

Stephanie Pearce, PhD Candidate, School of Politics & IR
Primary Supervisor: Professor Ray Kiely

I am in my third year of doctoral research at Queen Mary College, having completed an MA in International Relations here previously. As of September 2011 I also teach in the School of Politics & IR, assisting on the second year module ‘International Politics of the Developing World’. Prior to Queen Mary I attended Middlesex University, where I achieved a first class BA in Spanish with Political and International Studies. Throughout my university career I have taken on various part time and voluntary roles in the NGO sector, most recently as a Research and Campaigns Assistant for the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.

My PhD research explores the revival of countertrade agreements by Venezuela in the contemporary conjuncture. In previous decades, during the Cold War and debt crises, countertrading was implemented as a last resort by the then Third and Second worlds to maintain the import of goods from the First world, under conditions of illiquidity and low foreign exchange reserves. In contrast, under the Chavez administration, mechanisms of mutually beneficial reciprocal non-market trade have been promoted by Venezuela and voluntarily opted into by its partners in the Global South.

The thesis analyses Venezuelan countertrade since 2004 in three spheres, which can be identified as having three distinct motivations in keeping with the aims of ‘21st Century Socialism’; human development, regional integration and greater global equity. At a sub-regional level Venezuelan countertrade forms part of an endogenous, cooperative, human development strategy under the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), framed by a discourse based on solidarity. Simultaneously Venezuela has initiated countertrade agreements at a broader regional level with fellow Mercosur members, been instrumental in the establishment of the Banco del Sur, and created Petrocaribe, arguably using countertrade to both deepen and widen integration in Latin America. Elsewhere Venezuela has sought to encourage South-South cooperation and technology transfer with extra-hemispheric countertrade partners who appear to have been selected due to a shared vision of a multipolar global society.

I have explored these three levels of countertrading via case studies of specific reciprocal agreements, undertaken by Venezuela with Bolivia, Guyana and Iran respectively. My work includes both empirical research, to establish the scope and extent of existing Venezuelan countertrade agreements, and stakeholder interviews which were undertaken in Georgetown and Caracas in the summer of 2011.  The thesis posits these various experiences of Venezuelan countertrade along a 'spectrum of reciprocity' where a combination of Venezuela’s geographical and ideological proximities to each partner determines the nature of transactions.

The research intends to determine if there are any lessons to be learnt from the Venezuelan experience which might have implications for how countries of the Global South could manage their trade in order to minimize the negative impacts of, or substantively alter, the structural disadvantage they suffer in the international economy. Countertrading could constitute strategies of selective delinking from the international economy by creating space for cooperative South-South trade. This in turn may contribute to a reorientation of the global economy, away from the financialisation of the neoliberal conjuncture, towards more productive and needs-based economies, in which exchange itself is an act of solidarity. 

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