Ecuadorian ambassador Nathalie Cely: Renew trade deal to bolster US-Ecuador relationship

The arrival last month of the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador Adam Namm, and my presence here in Washington since January as the Ecuadorian ambassador, mark a positive new step in an important bilateral relationship. The U.S.-Ecuador relationship is strengthening, drawing on mutual interests and shared values that promote economic and cultural ties between our countries.

Our people enjoy close bonds. Many Ecuadorians have chosen to make the United States their home, contributing to strengthening the American economy. And over the past few years, many Americans have moved to Ecuador, attracted by Ecuador’s investment opportunities, beauty and quality of life. With more than 1.5 million Ecuadorians now living in America and 25,000 Americans living in Ecuador, a close partnership is necessary.

Both countries also share important goals and policies with respect to security issues, protecting the environment and providing strong economic and social opportunities for our citizens. In order to achieve our fullest potential, it is important that our two nations reestablish and actively engage in the Bilateral Dialogue mechanism established in 2008 to discuss our differences and work proactively to further our common interests.

Today, the Government of Ecuador is working closely with the United States on drug-related crop eradication. The U.S. recognizes that Ecuador is not an illicit drug producing country, and studies by the UN Office of Drug and Crime show that Ecuador remains vigilant in taking strong preventive action to ensure this status continues. However, we live in a dangerous region, surrounded on both borders by nations struggling with major drug production.

Of course, the drug problem cannot persist without demand, and the U.S. now consumes over $65 billion worth of illegal drugs every year – well over half of the world’s total production. Only a coordinated and integrated strategy, which attacks both supply and demand, can be successful. For this reason, we are glad the Obama Administration is putting emphasis on deterring consumption.

Moving forward, there is great potential for our relationship in the economic and security spheres. Currently, the main pillar of economic and security cooperation between our two countries is the highly successful “Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act” (ATPDEA), which enables both countries to reap important benefits.

The ATPDEA has also produced, and will continue to produce, massive economic advantages to America and Ecuador. As noted in the U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) 2012 National Trade Estimate Report, exports to Ecuador last year were $6.1 billion, up 27 percent from 2007 – the highest growth rate among Latin American countries. Corresponding U.S. imports from Ecuador were $9.6 billion, up 29.1 percent from 2010.

The ATPDEA has also been the best cooperation tool both countries share to combat drug trafficking. The program has been increasingly successful in achieving its goal of preventing drug trafficking in Latin America, and has been essential in creating employment opportunities that encourage development in Ecuador, allowing the country to focus on drug eradication.

Particularly, ATPDEA-dependent products that flourish near the north-central Colombian border, known for its opium and coca-leaf plantations, have helped displace drug production while supporting development in the region. As the USTR explains in a 2010 report, the government “has continued to reinforce its security presence in the northern border area with an increased number of military operations each year since 2007.”

By spurring economic growth and security in Ecuador, the ATPDEA has also allowed the government to improve various development indicators, such as reducing poverty and inequality. In five years, Ecuador has reduced poverty from 37.6 percent in 2006 to 28.6 percent in 2011. According to a May 2012 report by the UK's Centre for Economic Policy Research, “Ecuador’s recovery from the recent recession has been robust enough to show real progress in the labor market. Unemployment is currently at 4.9 percent, while the minimum wage has risen by about 40 percent in real terms.”

Aided by the ATPDEA, the government has nurtured initiatives to support the private sector, civil society, education and the environment. Our international credit rating has continuously improved in the midst of a global recession, and we have warmly welcomed an increase in foreign investors, including many American companies who have started or expanded business in the country. We are proud to announce that Halliburton and Schlumberger, among others, have started business in Ecuador.

The ATPDEA is a “win-win” policy for both countries. But its renewal in the U.S. is by no means secure. Standing in the way is a well-oiled lobbying campaign, organized and funded by special interest groups with a narrow agenda. They seek to hold thousands of jobs hostage to support their personal interests.

We are confident that good policy will prevail, and the ATPDEA will be renewed by the U.S. when it is up for extension in 2013. Such a move will ensure that the best days for U.S.-Ecuador relations are ahead of us.