CARACAS May 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela's oil and fuel exports rose slightly in 2012 over the previous year even as crude production and refinery output slipped, the oil minister said on Friday, as the OPEC nation relied on imports to meet part of local fuel demand.
Exports rose 4 percent to reach 2.57 million barrels per day (bpd) while oil production slipped 3 percent to 3.03 million bpd from 3.13 million bpd, state oil company PDVSA said.
The total amount of oil processed by Venezuelan refineries dropped 13 percent.
Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said PDVSA last year imported refined products to supply the domestic market. He said it also imported naphtha to blend with extra-heavy crude from the vast Orinoco belt and exported the resulting mix.
Venezuela in the fourth quarter imported between 150,000 bpd and 190,000 bpd of fuel from the United States, including gasoline and diesel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Ramirez declined to say how much fuel Venezuela imported in 2012.
Greater fuel imports were in part the result of an explosion and fire in August at the country's largest refinery, Amuay, that caused extensive damage. PDVSA this week restarted one Amuay unit that had required extensive repairs as a result of the blaze.
The country is currently shipping 500,000 bpd of fuel and products to China, part of which is used to pay off oil-for-financing agreements, Ramirez said.
He added PDVSA has paid off $16.2 billion of $36 billion borrowed from China.
Oil and fuel exports in recent years have provided more than 90 percent of the OPEC nation's foreign exchange income.