Ecuador, Chevron face off over trade deal renewal

Ecuador is launching a full-court press to get the United States to renew and extend a trade deal aimed at getting impoverished farmers to cultivate flowers and broccoli instead of coca leaves.

The push comes as the left-wing government of President Rafael Correa is being accused of violating the terms of the agreement by powerful U.S. business interests upset at Ecuador's $18 billion pollution lawsuit judgment against the Chevron oil company.

The Andean Trade Preference Act was initially enacted in 1991 to help four countries — Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru — fight drug trafficking by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for thousands of rural products. Ecuador is the only country left in the program after Colombia and Peru signed free-trade agreements with the United States and Bolivia lost its preferences after a diplomatic spat.

“We're very concerned the ATPA will expire next year,” said Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, Nathalie Cely Suarez. “And we want Americans to hear from the real voices of the people [whose] jobs can be in jeopardy.”

Cely spoke to The Hill following a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies by two government ministers and several business leaders who enjoy the benefits of duty-free access to the U.S. market. She said she'll also be reaching out to Congress in the coming weeks to get her message across.

Ecuadoran exports under ATPA represented 61 percent of total exports to the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, the embassy wrote in comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative last week. The trade deal supports 320,000 Ecuadoran jobs and helps maintain political stability, the embassy wrote, while enhancing counternarcotics cooperation between the two countries.

Ecuador says the agreement creates jobs in the United States as well, but the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents 300 American companies engaged in international trade and investment, is urging the Obama administration to skewer the deal. The council says Ecuador should lose its trade privileges because it has refused to abide by the judgment of an international tribunal convened under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty that ordered Ecuador to prevent enforcement of the judgment against Chevron.

Correa has reportedly called the tribunal's ruling a “monstrosity,” and an appellate court said it does not consider itself bound by its ruling.

“If Ecuador continues to ignore its obligations under the BIT and the ATPA, the U.S. should revoke the country’s trade preference privileges,” council president William Reinsch wrote to the U.S. trade office. “Such a step by the United States would send a clear message that international obligations cannot be violated without consequence.”