Ecuador unilaterally scraps U.S. trade deal

Jose Jacome/EPA - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa smiles at the crowd during a military act at the Presidential Palace in Quito, Ecuador, June 24, 2013.

BOGOTA, Colombia — The leftist government of Ecuador, under pressure from the Obama administration for considering a request for sanctuary from the American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, announced Thursday that it will back out of a preferential trade pact with the United States that top Ecuadoran officials say is being used to blackmail their country.

The move, which President Rafael Correa’s government described as unilateral, came a day after the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pledged to do all he could to block trade benefits for Ecuador should it grant Snowden political asylum.

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“Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement Wednesday. “Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right.”

Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who is presumed to be in Moscow, has asked for asylum in Ecuador. While the government has made no decision in response to the request, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño voiced sympathy for the 30-year-old fugitive in lengthy comments Monday.

At a news conference Thursday, Minister of Communications Fernando Alvarado pushed back at perceived efforts to influence Ecuador’s decision. It “doesn’t accept pressure or threats from anybody, and it doesn’t trade its principles or give them up for commercial interests, no matter how important,” the Quito-based newspaper El Comercio quoted him as saying.

Alvarado said his country “unilaterally and irrevocably renounces those trade preferences” and defiantly quipped that Ecuador would provide $23 million to the Obama administration for human rights training.

Later in the day, Correa said that Snowden would have to make it to Ecuador or get inside one of its embassies to have his bid for asylum processed. Snowden “is not in Ecuadorian territory so, technically, we cannot process his request,” the president said.

The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act has allowed Ecuadoran exporters of flowers, tuna, artichokes and many other products to ship tariff-free to the United States.

“The preferences were authorized for Andean countries as compensation for the fight against drugs but soon became a new instrument of pressure,” Alvarado said.

The pact was designed to help generate jobs in countries involved in the drug trade; although Ecuador does not produce cocaine, it is an important drug conduit and is vulnerable to organized crime groups because of its weak institutions, according to State Department counternarcotics officials.

Within Congress, the decision to pull out of the pact may have been eased by long-standing opposition to it, which had been growing even before Snowden’s asylum request. Lawmakers have been sharply critical of Correa for his country’s ties to Iran and for having given sanctuary to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy.

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