- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Fishing for trade

Ecuador's foreign minister yesterday was dashing around Washington in a frantic attempt to save a trade agreement ensnared in politics on Capitol Hill.

The minister, Heinz Moeller, stopped to see Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat; and Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat. He huddled earlier with officials from Colombia and Bolivia, who met at the Ecuadorean Embassy.

He had already talked to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, who support his efforts.

His diplomacy mainly concerned tuna. Ecuador is one of the world's leading producers of canned tuna. Its fishermen observe international rules to avoid ensnaring dolphins in their nets, giving their product the coveted "dolphin-safe" label.

As Mr. Moeller explained, the United States should renew the Andean Trade Preference Act and expand it to give Ecuador tariff-free access for its canned tuna, because Ecuador is doing its part to stop the spread of drugs in South America, where illegal narcotics fuels terrorism.

Ecuador has already agreed to allow the U.S. Air Force use of an air base for patrols to prevent smugglers from Colombia and Peru from crossing the border. Ecuador, while not a drug-producing country, has become a transshipment route.

"Let's do something to help Ecuador fight drugs and terrorism and support the American consumer," he told Embassy Row on a ride from the embassy in Northwest Washington to the Capitol.

The House has passed a renewal of the trade pact with a tuna clause for Ecuador, but the Senate Finance Committee defeated a Senate version of the bill.

"We cannot ignore the influence of a sector of the American tuna industry that worries about the competition," Mr. Moeller said.

Basically, the tuna war comes down to a struggle between two companies, Bumble Bee, which opposes the measure, and StarKist, which supports it, he said.

Ecuador, where a struggling economy is beginning to recover, could lose 30,000 jobs if the act is not renewed. Worse, Mr. Moeller said, is the threat of the drug trade spilling over the border from Colombia.

One of the purposes of the 1991 Andean Trade Act was to discourage farmers from the cocaine trade by opening the U.S. market to other products. For Ecuador, that resulted in a lively trade in cut flowers.

"Not to get a pat on the back," he said, referring to an expansion of the act, "would be highly demoralizing for our country."


China, U.S. hold talks

A top U.S. counterterrorism expert opens two days of talks today with China on ways to cooperate in the war against terrorism.

Ambassador-at-large Francis Taylor will meet Vice Foreign Ministers Wang Yi and Li Zhaoxing, a former ambassador to the United States, and the army's deputy chief of staff, Xiong Guangkai.

"He will exchange views with the Chinese side on strengthening of cooperation between the two countries in anti-terrorism," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said yesterday.

Mr. Taylor is also scheduled to meet public-security officials and leaders of China's central bank.


Destination Philippines

A series of upcoming U.S. diplomatic visits to the Philippines is a sign that President Bush wants to "forge stronger" bilateral relations, a government spokesman said yesterday.

Rigoberto Tiglao told reporters in Manila that the visits will include Cabinet-level officials, but he did not reveal any names.

Mr. Tiglao said the recent visit to Washington by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had a "very positive" effect that has resulted in $4.6 billion of U.S. economic and military-aid agreements.

"One indication of this impact is there will be a series of visits by top U.S. officials, which indicate that the signal has been sent from President Bush," Mr. Tiglao said. "The U.S. government is out to help our country and forge stronger relations."

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo was one of the first world leaders to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Part of the military aid will help the Philippines fight separatist Muslim guerrillas, including the Abu Sayyaf group, which is holding an American couple hostage.

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