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US House set to vote on extending Andean trade preferences


U.S. House Set to Vote on Extending Andean Trade Preferences

By Mark Drajem

27 June 2007

June 27 (Bloomberg) — The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today on a plan to extend trade preferences for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia for eight months.

That extension is less than the two years that Democrats proposed in March, and comes as the Bush administration is wrapping up changes to pending free-trade agreements with Peru and Colombia so they can be considered by Congress.

A Senate vote is likely later this week, before the preferences expire at the end of this month. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the chamber’s Finance Committee, had objected to extending the duty-free benefits for Ecuador and Bolivia, saying that further extensions may not be forthcoming.

``I’ll continue to evaluate their actions and policies closely,’’ Grassley said in a statement. ``Unilateral trade preferences should not be taken for granted.’’

Trade preferences, which were given to these countries to encourage them to move away from drug production, aren’t as broad as free-trade agreements the administration is negotiating and don’t include the same tariff cuts by the Latin American nations for U.S. exports.

Free-trade deals between the U.S. and Peru and Colombia, signed last year, have languished as the new Democratic majority in Congress demanded new labor and environment rules in the accords. Those changes are getting wrapped up this week.

Fast Track

Under the current fast-track treatment, Congress must accept or reject a trade agreement without change.

Still, even with the changes worked out between the White House and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York, supporters from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce don’t expect a majority of Democrats to support either of those agreements.

The accords were dealt a blow today as the largest U.S. Latino groups wrote members of Congress opposing them, arguing that a flood of subsidized U.S. agriculture exports would push farmers in those countries off the land.

``This deal would continue to generate economic inequality and a deterioration of social standards both at home and abroad, and continue to make migration to the United States the only option for many working families in Latin America,’’ the League of United Latin American Citizens and other Latino groups wrote in their letter.