- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Andean trouble ahead
Peruvian Ambassador Allan Wagner fears that democracy in his part of South America could suffer a critical blow unless the United States opens its markets to products from the Andean region.
Mr. Wagner believes the threat can only be lifted by renewing and expanding the Andean Trade Preferences Act, which expired Dec. 4.
The House has passed a new trade bill that broadens the old act.
For Peru, it would remove the current 21 percent tariffs on textiles. A similar bill, however, is stuck in the Senate, blocked by lawmakers from textile states who believe it would cost American jobs.
While legislators haggle over the bill's fate, officials in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru fear a resurgence of the twin evils of drug trafficking and terrorism, with peasant farmers returning to the cocaine trade as the export market for cotton and other legal crops fails throughout the four Andean countries.
Mr. Wagner told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on a recent visit that the trade bill must be passed as soon as possible.
"It has to be now. In six months' time, we will have deep trouble in the Andean region," he said.
The trade liberalization provided by the bill "is not a threat to the American textile industry, but for us it is a matter of democracy, security and fighting terrorism and drug traffickers."
Peru and Ecuador are already seeing an increase in illegal drug activity as smugglers are forced out of Colombia by a U.S.-backed crackdown, called Plan Colombia.
"The success of Plan Colombia means that drug traffickers are coming back to Peru," Mr. Wagner said.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Heinze Moeller made a similar argument when he visited Washington earlier this month to try to prevent the expiration of the trade bill.
Ecuador wants the bill expanded to exempt its canned tuna from tariffs.
Mr. Wagner said the House-passed bill would greatly benefit the Peruvian textile industry because the measure would lift tariffs on clothing made in Peru from domestic cotton.
Ambassador Carlos Alzamora, Peru's special trade envoy who accompanied Mr. Wagner, predicted that a defeat of the bill would lead Peruvians to question whether democracy can bring them a better life.
After Peru survived the constitutional crisis brought on by the forced resignation of authoritarian president Alberto Fujimori, the country sank into an economic morass.
Today 54 percent of Peruvians live in poverty.
Mr. Alzamora said a failure to reissue the bill will lead to a "stampede" back to cocaine production and create "a crisis of faith in democracy."

Caribbean crisis
The terrorist attacks on the United States have created a ripple effect throughout the economies of the Caribbean nations, as tourism falls to record low levels.
The impact fell hardest in October and November, and tourist officials hope December brings some relief, according to Guyanan Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, the most senior ambassador from the region.
"For Caribbean tourism, the last two months were disastrous, as American tourists stayed home after September 11," he said in a recent speech at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
"Every day, there are cancellations because people are not bothering to travel," he added, referring to reservations at hotels and resorts.
"As a result, many people employed in the entertainment and hotel industries in the countries that rely heavily on tourism have been laid off.
"And with less money circulating as a result of the sliding tourism sector and possibly tighter controls on off-shore banks, many people in the Bahamas, for example, who made banking their profession, have now joined the ranks of the unemployed."
The crash of an American Airlines plane bound for the Dominican Republic last month "compounded the situation," he said.
Guyana and other members of the Caribbean Community have taken several measures to address the decline, including an $18 million advertising campaign in the U.S., Canadian and British markets and tighter security at airports.
Now, they are pinning their hopes on the Christmas season.
"But already bookings are scanty, even at heavily reduced room rates," he said.

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