Despite deep political differences, trade is booming between the US and Venezuela and could reach $50 billion by the end of 2006, the US ambassador said.

US Ambassador William Brownfield told the El Universal newspaper that bilateral trade, which hit $40 billion in 2005, “increased even more” during the first quarter and was expected to rise by 25% to $50 billion by the end of the year.

Brownfield said the trade - which was mostly based on oil exports to the US, Venezuela’s top market - will “favor and continue to favor Venezuela.”

But the US diplomat warned that, “words have consequences and the rhetoric, the politics cannot be totally ignored.”

Relations between the two countries have long been rocky, but took on a more confrontational tone recently after President Hugo Chavez called his US counterpart George W. Bush “the devil” recently at the United Nations.

On Oct. 23, Venezuelan police detained a university student outside the US Embassy for allegedly planting two homemade pipe bombs along the street outside the diplomatic mission. No one was hurt, and the student’s motives remained unclear.

Brownfield, who condemned the incident as “an act of cowardice that put innocent lives at risk,” said Chavez’s fierce anti-US rhetoric could encourage such behavior.

“In the end what happens is the product up to a certain point of the rhetoric and public controversy. Let’s hope that there will be less controversy in the future in order not to encourage people to take actions like this,” he told the El Universal. (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)