Ecuador nixes trade deal, offers US cash for 'education about human rights'

Ecuador unilaterally canceled its trade deal with the United States on Thursday and offered to provide $23 million a year to help the country with its “human rights” education, the latest twist in a showdown over NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

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The move follows a "threat" made earlier this week by U.S. lawmakers not to renew an expiring preferential trade deal with Ecuador if the country grants Snowden's request for political asylum, Communications Secretary Fernando Alvarado told reporters in Quito. 

Snowden remains in the transit area of the Moscow airport and Ecuador has said it could take months to process his application.

“Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits,” Alvarado said, according to Reuters. 

“What's more, Ecuador offers the United States economic aid of $23 million annually, similar to what we received with the trade benefits, with the intention of providing education about human rights."

The announcement is largely seen as a preemptive move after the Obama administration and key lawmakers made it clear the trade deal was in jeopardy. 

Rep. Sander Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House trade panel, told The Hill there was “no way” the trade deal would be renewed if Snowden gets asylum. And Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert MenendezConfirm Julien Neals for the district of New Jersey Puerto Rico task force asks for help in charting island's economic course Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (D-N.J.) vowed to personally “lead the effort” to deny Ecuador special trade preferences if it happens. 

“Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right,” he said. “I urge President Correa to do the right thing by the United States and Ecuador, and deny Snowden's request for asylum.”

The Andean Trade Preference Act expires at the end of next month, and Ecuador had been lobbying hard to have Congress renew the 1991 deal aimed at getting impoverished farmers to cultivate flowers and broccoli instead of coca leaves. 

Alvarado said Ecuador would sooner give up on the benefits – Ecuador has said the trade deal supports 320,000 Ecuadoran jobs and helps maintain political stability –  than cave in to U.S. pressure.

“Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone,” he said, “nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be.”

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