Ecuador is seeking U.S. renewal of trade benefits even as it increases its ties with Iran, the Latin American country’s ambassador to the U.S. said.
“We are in a new phase of our relationship” with the U.S., Ambassador Nathalie Cely said in an interview yesterday at Ecuador’s Embassy in Washington.
Diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Ecuador are fragile following a diplomatic spat last year in which ambassadors from both countries were expelled. Cely assumed her post in Washington on Jan. 18, and Adam Namm, the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador, arrived in Quito May 30.
Ecuador wants the U.S. Congress to renew the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which expires next year. The country’s relations with Iran have made this task difficult with “some areas of the Congress,” Cely said.
Some U.S. lawmakers have a “black and white view” in which “you’re either with the United States or against the United States,” she said. “I don’t think that view is current for Latin America. There are a lot of grays.”
Cely is hoping to know by January “at the latest” whether renewal has support in Congress.
The Andean trade preferences legislation, first established in 1991 to reduce narcotics production in the Andes region, has created about 300,000 jobs in Ecuador and should be renewed for a minimum of three or four years, according to Cely.
If it were not extended, at least 40,000 jobs in sectors including cut-flowers and broccoli production would immediately be at risk, Cely said.
The act “does not expire until July 2013, so Members will continue to analyze the situation. Many Members and the Administration have pointed to continuing strong concerns about Ecuador over the years, which is the sole beneficiary of the program now that we have a free trade agreement with Colombia,” Sarah Swinehart, spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Ways & Means Committee, said by e-mail.
Relations between the U.S. and Ecuador were strained last year following a diplomatic spat in which Correa expelled the U.S. ambassador to Quito, Heather Hodges, over allegations she made in a classified diplomatic cable that he knowingly appointed a corrupt police chief.
The two nations have also sparred over Correa’s attempts to imprison journalists for publishing remarks he found offensive. Last month, President Barack Obama named Ecuador as an example of nations that have implemented measures restricting free speech.
Relations between Ecuador and Iran have strengthened since President Rafael Correa, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, took power in 2007.
Correa hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in January, and in a meeting May 30 in Quito, told Vice President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou to “make yourself at home.”
Ecuador, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ smallest member, said May 23 it plans to buy about $400 million of fuel from Iran to cover a shortfall in the South American country, even as the U.S. seeks to isolate the Persian nation over speculation it’s seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at email@example.com; Nathan Gill in Quito at firstname.lastname@example.org
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