The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Monday to
approve a one-year extension of trade benefits for Colombia and other
Latin American countries that expire at the end of the year.
The House bill also would extend a much broader trade benefits
program, known as the Generalized System of Preferences, through the
end of 2009. The program provides duty-free treatment for more than
4,000 goods from 144 developing countries, including 43 least-developed
“It is now up to the U.S. Senate to act immediately so that these
benefits remain in place,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman
Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, said.
The Bush administration also urged the Senate to quickly approve the
legislation, which it said in the case of Colombia and Peru was needed
to provide a bridge until free trade agreements with those pacts are
Lawmakers approved the Peru agreement last year, but the pact
locking in Peru’s duty-free access to the U.S. market under the
17-year-old Andean trade preferences program has not yet gone into
Congress has shrugged off White House pressure and balked at
approving the Colombia agreement until that country makes more progress
in stopping murders of trade unionists.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush began steps last week to suspend
trade preferences for Bolivia because of what U.S. officials described
as that country’s poor cooperation with the United States in fighting
The House bill would not stop that suspension process if it became
law but would allow Bolivia to again qualify for the trade benefits if
its cooperation improves.
The House vote came as lawmakers are scrambling to finish their work
for the year and only noncontroversial bills are likely to make it to
the Senate floor for a vote.
Congressional aides said there is broad support in the Senate for renewing the long-standing programs.
However, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the
Senate Finance Committee, has been a critic of the benefit programs and
could block quick action on the bill. (Reuters)