The nation that introduced the 50-50 split for oil profits, now the pattern in most parts of the world, is pioneering another oil-derived benefit certain to catch the envious attention of petroleum-rich countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Using oil income and hitherto wasted natural gas, Venezuela is building itself a $300 million basic industry in petrochemicals.

The new industry is rising in three phases. From the first, to be completed this year, will emerge a plant that can make fertilizer, chlorine and caustic soda. The second will bring in the production of...

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