The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a 10-month extension of a trade program aimed at promoting imports from four Andean nations and thus discouraging the cultivation and production of illegal drugs.
The voice vote would continue the Andean Trade Preference Act, which eliminates most tariffs through the end of this year on goods from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The trade program expires today, so the Senate must agree to the extension and send the legislation to U.S. President George W. Bush for his signature before then to avoid possible trade disruptions.
"Failure to extend the Andean preference program would be mutually disadvantageous to both the United States and to these four countries," said Democratic Representative Sander Levin, head of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee. "I hope the Senate will quickly follow our lead and pass this 10-month extension."
Congress enacted the program in 1991 with the goal of reducing illicit narcotics production in the Andean region by promoting legitimate industries. U.S imports from the region have grown from US$4.9 billion in 1991 to US$22.5 billion in 2006. The Ways and Means Committee said as many as 2 million jobs in the Andean region may depend on the agreement.
Committee chairman Charles Rangel, another Democrat, had sought a longer extension but met resistance from Republicans pressing the majority Democrats to act this year on a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia.
U.S. Representative Jim McCrery, the top Republican on the committee, said the Andean agreement, while providing duty-free access for almost all imports from the region, does nothing to improve market access for U.S. goods, one of the chief benefits of a free trade deal with Colombia.