COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO INCREASE TRADE BENEFITS
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — Colombia’s President Andres Pastrana is making the rounds of political brokers here this week to garner support for his beleaguered country, a mission that includes asking once again that Congress grant Colombia expanded apparel trade benefits.
Apparel and textile factories are leading employers in Colombia and Pastrana wants their products to enter the U.S. duty free, putting them on par with trade breaks already granted Mexico and more recently the Caribbean Basin. (For more on trade issues in the region, see pages 10-16.)
“The apparel industry and textile industry are fundamental for us,” Pastrana told reporters Monday, before a meeting with House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde.
He said increasing employment in these industries and other sectors is key to displacing Colombia’s thriving drug economy.
Pastrana made the same request last year to President Clinton and Capitol Hill lawmakers by asking that Colombia be included in a trade bill granting duty-free apparel import status to neighboring Central American and Caribbean nations.
The bill granted the status to garments made of U.S. textiles and to a limited amount of garments made from regional textiles. The request received support from Clinton and Republican leadership, but was excluded from the trade package.
Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.) plans to reintroduce a bill that would grant duty-free treatment of apparel from Colombia, as well as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, if the garments are made from U.S. textiles. The duty breaks expand the scope of the existing Andean Trade Preference Act that is up for congressional renewal in December.
“We are promoting the enhancement of the ATPA,” Pastrana said. “That for us is very important.”
He would like Graham’s bill to give duty-free status to Colombian apparel made from regional, as well as U.S., textiles.
However, Hyde didn’t offer strong prospects for Congress including apparel in the act. The ATPA was designed to provide commercial alternatives in the region to raising cocaine by giving duty breaks for cut flowers, precious metals, jewelry and fish.
“It will be considered,” Hyde said. “It will be difficult. It’s not easy.”
Hyde’s comments reflect the difficulties trade-liberalizing measures can face in the House, particularly when they involve apparel and textiles.
Colombia’s share of the apparel and textile import market in the U.S. is miniscule, last year amounting to 0.36 percent of all apparel and textile imports. By comparison, Caribbean Basin nations in 2000 represented 11.5 percent of all imports into the U.S. and Mexico accounted for 14.5 percent.
President Bush has signaled support in general for liberalizing trade in Latin America through a Free Trade Agreement with the Americas and so he might look favorably on Pastrana’s request. Bush is scheduled to meet with the Colombian leader today on issues involving trade and the U.S. role in Colombia’s drug war.
Pastrana, who met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill Monday, is also set to meet today with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.).