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Colombia's Uribe to Ask Bush to Extend Andean Trade Benefits

U.S. President George Bush meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House Wednesday for talks on free trade, security and human rights issues in Colombia. The two leaders last met in February.

Mr. Uribe is expected to urge Mr. Bush to extend U.S. trade benefits for Andean economies that are due to expire in December.

Ecuador and Bolivia have both asked Washington to extend the trade program, which rewards them for their efforts in fighting the drug trade.

Mr. Uribe agreed to support the request after meeting Tuesday with the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru at a summit in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

The Andean leaders used the summit to try to strengthen their four-nation trade alliance, following the withdrawal of Venezuela in April. They also agreed to negotiate a free trade deal with the European Union.

Washington granted trade benefits to Andean economies in 1991 to help them reduce the harvesting of crops like the coca leaf which can be used to make illegal drugs.

Under the trade scheme, the U.S. reduces tariffs on imports of Andean products. But U.S. lawmakers have said an extension of the reduced tariffs beyond this year is unlikely.

Colombia and the United States are allies in the fight against drug trafficking. The White House has said Mr. Uribe's visit to the U.S. underscores the friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

Venezuela left the Andean trade bloc in April, saying it is "fatally wounded" because Colombia and Peru signed free trade deals with the United States.

Advocates say the free trade deals with the U.S. open up markets and create more jobs. Critics say the agreements leave developing countries at a disadvantage with competition from cheaper U.S. products.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.
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