The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill extending trade benefits to four South American countries for another five years. The bill which awaits Senate action - is aimed at promoting progress in the war on drugs.
U.S. trade preferences for Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, which were put in place in 1991, are due to expire next month.
Without an extension, some $2 billion in duties would be imposed on imports from those countries.
Besides giving duty-free treatment to tuna and textile imports from those nations, the bill called the Andean Trade Promotion Act (ATPA), would expand such benefits to certain leather and petroleum products.
Supporters say the measure, known by its acronym ATPA, can foster economic development and encourage farmers to turn away from crops that can be turned into illicit drugs.
"We need this critical legislation to expand U.S. trade and to help Andean entrepreneurs find practical and profitable alternatives to cultivating crops for the production of illicit drugs," said Republican Congressman Phil Crane of Illinois, a sponsor of the bill. "If we fail to renew ATPA we not only turn our backs on the people of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru who are struggling daily to resist the lure of the drug economy, but we also will be turning our backs on our fellow Americans, who are fighting the drug scourge here at home and in Latin America."
The bill passed despite objections from lawmakers of textile-producing states, who argued it would cost U.S. jobs.
Republican Congressman Howard Coble of North Carolina said the measure would be 'extremely damaging' to the U.S. textile industry, which he noted has already lost more than 10 percent of its workforce in the past year.
"It will cause even more U.S. job losses and make our current crisis even worse," he said. "The bill would harm American textile manufacturers including producers of fabric, yarn and thread." The legislation would also increase apparel imports from sub-Saharan Africa, and would add Namibia and Botswana to a list of beneficiary countries. And it would allow more textiles to be imported from Caribbean countries.
The Bush administration supports the legislation.