BY ROGER F. NORIEGA
During its upcoming "lame duck" session, the Congress will have a precious opportunity to advance U.S. objectives in Latin America – sustaining anti-drug efforts and contrasting constructive U.S. policies with the divisive, anti-American agenda of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez.
The Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act provides valuable trade benefits to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – making legal export industries more profitable and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. These commercial enterprises – many of which are primed by U.S. investors – create alternatives to the cultivation and trafficking in illicit crops that might otherwise make their way to U.S. streets and schoolyards in the form of cocaine or heroin.
When we create a market here for Bolivian handicrafts, Colombian products, Ecuadorean flowers, or Peruvian produce, we contribute to the fight against illicit drugs. We also have encouraged economic growth in nations that might otherwise falter under poverty and chaos. Populist acolytes of Chavez are at work in each of these countries, offering warmed over socialism to desperately poor people who wonder whether democracy can solve their problems. Illegal drug syndicates lure poor peasants into their deadly trade by promising meager wages to cultivate coca or opium poppies.
JOBS, GROWTH AND STABILITY
Thanks to ATPDEA, the United States can help honest entrepreneurs offer their people something different: good jobs that inspire hope and contribute to economic growth and political stability in a region that needs both. But unless the law is extended beyond the current expiration of December 31, 2006, many exporters will find their products uncompetitive and their business unprofitable. Thousands of honest jobs, and the hope that comes along with them, will be lost.
The future of the Andean region is in play – thanks to the narcoterrorist threat and the populist flames fanned by Chavez and his followers. Bolivia remains terribly divided under the leadership of President Evo Morales, who has nationalized foreign energy investment and has encouraged class divisions as a political tool. Colombia is making significant strides against the violence and criminality sown by narcoterrorist groups, but its pro-American President Alvaro Uribe admits that much work remains to be done to consolidate the economic recovery that is essential to his "democratic security" strategy. An election is underway in Ecuador, pitting a leftist, anti-American sloganeer against an entrepreneur committed to free trade and positive relations with the United States. Peru has made significant progress recovering its democratic institutions and sustaining economic growth to reduce poverty.
In each of these countries, renewal of ATPDEA benefits will make a positive contribution – reminding our friends in the region that free market policies and trade are the engines of growth. On the other hand, if ATPDEA is allowed to lapse, thousands of jobs will be wiped out over night and our fiercest critics will peddle it as an example of U.S. indifference and unreliability.
TOOLS FOR REFORM
The United States has offered bilateral or regional trade agreements as tools to spur growth and the economic reforms that are needed to build strong competitive economies in our natural market. Indeed, a free trade accord (FTA) with Peru is pending before the Congress. A Colombia agreement is signed and sealed and may be presented for legislative approval very soon. Ecuador remains interested in completing a trade agreement. Only Bolivia's government is not actively pursuing such a formal trade arrangement with the United States.
Trade policy makers had hoped that by now bilateral trade agreements, which secure access to foreign markets for U.S. goods and services, would have replaced the unilateral concessions of ATPDEA. Unfortunately, only the Peruvian accord is ripe for Congressional consideration before the end of the year – and many observers question whether a busy and perhaps chaotic lame duck session will afford time to pass the Peru FTA. In short, a simple extension of ATPDEA is not only a meaningful – it is doable.
In recent weeks, we have seen Hugo Chavez's anti-American circus act fall flat at the United Nations: his fiery speech in September clearly cost his country a seat on the UN Security Council. Many in Venezuela are questioning his leadership like never before. Populist candidates backed by Chavez have lost recent elections in Peru and Mexico. Peruvian, Nicaraguan, and other leaders have rejected Chavez's meddling in their affairs. The vast majority of governments in the region favor positive relations with the United States over Chavez's divisive vision.
Renewal of ATPDEA will clearly advance the U.S. partnership in the Andes and further blunt Chavez's anti-American offensive. But even more important, extending ATPDEA will bolster the U.S. anti-drug strategy and preserve honest commerce until free trade accords are put in place. It is vital that Congressional leaders make time in the coming weeks to beat the ATPDEA deadline.
Roger F. Noriega is a former State Department official of the Bush Administration, 2001-2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and his firm Tew Cardenas LLP represents Ecuador's economic development organization. He wrote this column for Latin Business Chronicle.
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