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Just say no to new Ecuador trade benefits

Just say no to new Ecuador trade benefits

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has made no secret of his support for Iran’s controversial nuclear program. In fact, the fiery leftist revels in flaunting that support before the international community. But the relationship goes even deeper than that. Correa’s foreign minister just returned from Tehran, where he blasted the United States and sealed a $400 million deal to purchase Iranian fuel products, a deal that might not be illegal under United Nations sanctions, but certainly violates the spirit of international efforts to isolate the Islamist regime over its rogue nuclear program.

At the same time, Iran’s Vice President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou was visiting President Correa in Quito, saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran places no limits on the expansion of cooperation with Ecuador." (Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Ecuador just this past January.)

What makes this all worth noting is that the Ecuadorean embassy in Washington has just announced a public campaign to convince the U.S. Congress that Ecuador is deserving of continued trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).

Where to begin?

ATPA was first passed by Congress in 1991 to provide certain Andean countries market access for key exports to boost alternative industries to the drug trade. Of the four original beneficiaries, only Ecuador remains. Colombia and Peru both now have free trade agreements with the U.S., while Bolivia lost privileges for its expulsion of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008.

Obviously, a fundamental prerequisite for ATPA eligibility is that a country shares a commonality of purpose with the U.S. in eradicating illicit narcotics, but such a commitment under President Correa has been nonexistent. In fact, he made a central component of his rise to power to expel a U.S. counter-narcotics unit from the coastal city of Manta, which monitored drug shipments heading north to the United States and beyond.

According to the State Department’s 2012 international narcotics report, since the U.S. expulsion from Manta in 2009, drug seizures have gone down and trafficking has gone up. Moreover, last year the U.S. and Ecuador did not carry out a single joint counter-narcotics exercise, even as Mexican, Colombian, Russian, and Chinese transnational criminal organizations have increased their presence and activities in Ecuador.

Beyond counter-narcotics cooperation, ATPA also requires that the beneficiary respect the rights of U.S. companies operating within their borders. On that front, Ecuador has been involved in a high-stakes, multi-billion-dollar shakedown of the U.S. oil company Chevron, which it claims is responsible for the despoilment of a patch of the Ecuadorean rain forest years ago. The case has been replete with rigged judicial proceedings and political interference from the get-go.

Finally, Iran. One would think that extending trade benefits to another country would entitle the U.S. to some expressions of broader good will in return. Instead, the Correa government has responded with a reckless embrace of an international rogue that is pushing the world to a crisis point, for no other reason than to burnish its anti-American credentials.

ATPA does not expire until next year, but the U.S. Trade Representative has already asked for public comments on whether it should be renewed for Ecuador. The case for extension is not even close and the Obama administration ought to convey their opposition to any roll-over. Whether it is a joint commitment to fighting drugs, respecting U.S. investors, or hostility to fundamental U.S. foreign policy goals, Ecuador under the Correa government fails on all counts. 

If Ecuadorean exporters are going to be hurt by the end of ATPA benefits, they need to make their case to their own government, not the U.S. Congress. And they need to hold President Correa accountable — and him alone — if those benefits are lost.