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Ecuador seeks EU trade talks as neighbors move on

Associated Press

Ecuador seeks EU trade talks as neighbors move on

By Jeanneth Valdivieso

12 November 2008

Ecuador wants to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union, reversing its preference for group talks a day after neighboring Colombia and Peru abandoned efforts at a regional partnership in favor of their own deals with the European bloc.

Ecuador hopes to secure "fairer" trade terms than those sought by Colombia and Peru and may link a deal to political cooperation, Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador told reporters Wednesday.

The so-called Andean Community of Nations, which includes Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, had discussed plans to seek a trade deal with Europe as a group. But talks stalled amid internal disputes over free trade, which is more heavily favored by Colombia and Peru.

On Tuesday, the European Union commissioner for foreign relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the EU would begin talks for individual trade deals with Colombia and Peru.

Bogota’s and Lima’s decision to go it alone "fell like a bucket of cold water" in Ecuador, because both had agreed in October to negotiate as a bloc, Salvador said. The unilateral move makes it impossible for Ecuador to keep negotiating for the group, she added.

Ecuador and Bolivia had opposed a broad deal, disagreeing on privatization and genetic patent policies, among other things.

But Peru’s foreign minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said Ecuador had objected only to specific points, while Bolivia was more ideologically opposed to any kind of deal.

Given those circumstances, Garcia defended Peru’s and Colombia’s decision to move ahead, saying Bolivia was "wrong to impose its philosophy on everyone else."

"The idea is for this to advance without one of them dragging down the negotiation because there isn’t a common position," he said. "If Colombia and Peru are able to move more quickly, well, they’ll move more quickly. It’s still possible another country might join in the future."

Peru hopes to conclude trade talks with the EU by next July, Garcia said. Peru and Colombia have also signed trade deals with the U.S.

Divisions over the EU talks don’t put the Andean Community’s future at risk, he added, suggesting the bloc should focus on other issues including environmental protection and the fight against drug trafficking until conditions for economic and trade integration improve.

Bolivian President Evo Morales criticized the move by Peru and Colombia Tuesday night. But Gabriel Dadboud, head of a Bolivian pro-business group, warned that "Bolivia runs the risk of wandering in solitude through the world" if it doesn’t consider such deals.

Associated Press staff writers Carla Salazar in Lima, Peru and Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia contributed to this report.