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House approves trade pact extension

Associated Press

House Approves Trade Pact Extension

By Jim Abrams

27 February 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Wednesday approved a 10-month extension of a trade program aimed at promoting imports from four Andean nations and thus discouraging the cultivation and production of illegal drugs.

The voice vote would continue the Andean Trade Preference Act, which eliminates most tariffs on goods from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, through the end of this year.

The trade program expires on Feb. 29, and the Senate must agree to the extension and send the legislation to the president for his signature before then to avoid possible trade disruptions.

"Failure to extend the Andean preference program would be mutually disadvantageous to both the United States and to these four countries," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., head of the Ways and Means trade subcommittee. "I hope the Senate will quickly follow our lead and pass this 10-month extension."

Congress enacted the program in 1991 with the goal of reducing illicit narcotics production in the Andean region by promoting legitimate industries. U.S. imports from the region have grown from $4.9 billion in 1991 to $22.5 billion in 2006. The Ways and Means Committee said as many as 2 million jobs in the Andean region may be dependent on the act.

Committee chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., had sought a longer extension for the program but met resistance from Republicans who are pressing the majority Democrats to act this year on a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia.

Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., the top Republican on the committee, said the Andean agreement, while providing duty-free access for almost all imports from the region, does nothing to improve market access for U.S. goods, one of the chief benefits of a free trade deal with Colombia.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for Congress to use the next 10 months to pass the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement," he said.

Democrats have balked at bringing up the Colombia deal, citing human rights violations in that country. McCrery argued that the bilateral deal would strengthen labor rights in Colombia.

The bill is H.R. 5264.