Venezuela’s Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Tuesday the country plans to increase oil sales to China to 200,000 barrels a day by the end of the year.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Venezuela's state oil company, will increase sales of fuel oil, crude oil and other products by 50,000 barrels a day, Ramirez said at a press conference in Caracas. President Hugo Chavez had previously expressed hopes to increase export levels to 300,000 barrels a day by the end of 2006.

Chavez is set to make a state visit to China later this month where he is expected to sign agreements for 18 oil tankers worth $1.3 billion, as well as 24 oil-drilling rigs. While Venezuela has formed various trade relations with other countries over the past several years, the United States remains its top buyer. It purchases around 60 percent of Venezuela’s daily output of 2 million barrels of crude oil.

PDVSA will also form a joint venture with China’s largest oil company, China National Petroleum Corp. The companies will manage the Zumano oil fields in the eastern part of the Venezuela. Zumano has proven reserves of around 400 million barrels of light oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Since becoming President in 1999, Chavez signed a series of deals with China relating to oil, technology and other industries.