President George W. Bush signed legislation Wednesday extending for six months existent trade benefits to four Andean nations: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. According to the bill countries that approve free trade agreements, FTA, with the US will have a further six months.
Unilateral trade preferences for Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) were scheduled to expire at the end of 2006. Andean exporters had warned that letting the preferences lapse, with the consequent reintroduction of tariffs, could have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region. Although the extension will save jobs, they say that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the preferences will not encourage new investment. Colombia and Peru have already concluded FTA negotiations with Washington, and thus appear likely to benefit from the additional six-month period. However, whether these accords will secure Congressional approval in the US remains uncertain. The Democrats, who will take control of Congress in January, have threatened to vote against the FTAs unless they are modified to include new provisions on labor standards. The US has not concluded an FTA with either Ecuador or Bolivia. Negotiations with Ecuador got bogged down amidst disagreements on several issues, including the treatment of US investors. Talks with Bolivia never got off the ground and thus both countries stand to lose duty-free access to the US market on July first. "Trade is an engine of economic growth" and the best way to increase global prosperity is "to open markets to free and fair trade", said President George Bush during the signing ceremony in the Dwight Eisenhower Building next to the White House.