Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — A bill that would extend duty-free benefits to apparel produced in Andean countries from U.S. textiles was reintroduced in the Senate Tuesday and its sponsors said the drug war in Colombia can’t be won without it.
“Expanded trade benefits will provide the alternative economic stimulus needed to support our counternarcotics efforts in the region,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), at a news conference.
Congressional backers of the bill argue that the $1.6 billion the U.S. has invested in military support to Colombia’s antidrug efforts needs to be balanced with economic support. The bill would put Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador on par with Caribbean Basin countries that received similar duty-free benefits for apparel.
Despite support for the Andean Trade Preference Expansion Act by Republican leadership in Congress, its passage is far from assured. The bill ran into roadblocks last year by Southern apparel and textile state senators opposed to further expanding the Caribbean Basin trade bill, fearing its impact on the U.S. apparel industry.
Graham acknowledged the opposition still exists, but he said the pending expiration in December of the current Andean Trade Pact puts the bill in a more favorable position for passage. The pact, which extends trade breaks to a variety of products, from cut flowers and jewelry to tuna and other consumer products, has generally been deemed a success.
Graham also said Colombia is at risk of losing its textile and apparel sector because business will shift to the now duty-free Caribbean Basin unless trade parity is granted. The Colombian apparel and textile factories employ 200,000 and accounted for less than half of 1 percent of all U.S. apparel imports.
With global quotas on apparel and textiles scheduled for elimination in 2005, Colombia and the other Andean countries also need to insure their apparel sectors are able to compete, Graham said.
“It was critical for the Caribbean Basin countries and it’s equally critical for the Andean Countries that we increase [apparel] production” in anticipation of 2005, Graham said.
With the help of U.S. helicopters and intelligence, Colombian armed forces have been fumigating thousands of acres of cocoa fields from which cocaine is derived and shipped to the U.S.
The mission has sparked controversy. Some critics in the U.S. say the government is getting involved in another Vietnam War by involving itself in Colombia’s dense, decades-long civil unrest. In addition, four governors from Colombia came to Washington on Tuesday and told reporters the cocoa field spraying is killing legal crops, displacing peasants and escalated the violence.
“The position of the local officials is understandable,” Graham told reporters, stressing that the Andean trade pact would help Colombian people being displaced.
“All of this is not going to be resolved militarily,” said Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio), the bill’s other lead sponsor.