Thursday, October 23, 2008

US Cuts Off Trade Benefits to Bolivia Over Drug Charges

OCTOBER 23, 2008, 3:01 P.M. ET

U.S. Cuts Off Trade Benefits to Bolivia Over Drugs

Associated Press

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico -- The U.S. is suspending a trade deal with Bolivia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday. She called it unfortunate but necessary because Bolivian President Evo Morales has failed to improve anti-drug efforts.

Ms. Rice made the announcement even as Bolivian envoys arrived at the U.S. Trade Representative's office in Washington to lobby for continued participation in the regional trade pact, which lowers U.S. tariffs for Andean nations that cooperate with the U.S. war on drugs.

The suspension will raise U.S. tariffs on imports of Bolivian jewelry, textiles, wood and other products, costing an estimated 20,000 Bolivian jobs and $150 million a year.

Ms. Rice made the comments while visiting the resort of Puerto Vallarta to discuss Mexico's progress against drug cartels.

Mr. Morales has said his people shouldn't fear the cutoff of the trade deal with Bolivia's third largest trading partner after Brazil and Argentina, characterizing it as a punitive embargo along the lines of U.S. sanctions against Cuba. "We don't have to be afraid of an economic blockade by the United States against the Bolivian people," Mr. Morales said.

The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act has given breaks on some U.S. tariffs to several South American countries since 1991. But diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Bolivia have soured recently.

Mr. Morales booted the U.S. ambassador last month, accusing him of supporting his opponents, which the former ambassador denies. The U.S. sent Bolivia's top diplomat home in response.

Bolivia also demanded that U.S. development projects and Drug Enforcement Administration officials to leave the coca-growing region of Chapare, prompting Washington to place Bolivia on an anti-drug blacklist, which triggered the recommendation by President Bush to suspend Bolivia's participation.

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