- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Cocaine or polo shirts?

The war against drugs in South America can be reduced to a choice between cocaine or polo shirts, according to a leading Peruvian trade advocate.

Diego Calmet, on a visit to Washington last week, urged the United States to lift import tariffs on Peruvian textiles so as to remove the temptation for cotton farmers to take up the illegal production of coca, the plant from which cocaine is made.

Mr. Calmet also fears that the war on drugs in neighboring Colombia might push the problem into Peru, our correspondent Tom Carter reports.

"Cotton is a basic substitution crop for coca. If the tariffs were lifted, we think we could generate half a million new jobs in agriculture and keep the farmers from going back to growing coca," said Mr. Calmet, who braved the snowstorm last week to lobby members of Congress for the extension and expansion of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).

He said Peruvian clothing exports, including high-end cotton golf shirts designed and sold under the Ralph Lauren and Polo labels, make up less than half of 1 percent of U.S. clothing imports, but lifting the tariff could boost Peru's exports by as much as 40 percent.

Mr. Calmet, who represents Peruvian clothing makers, said that clothing manufactured in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America is sold in the United States without protective tariffs, while Peruvian clothing is hit with a duty of 21 percent.

Peruvian textiles account for a small percent of U.S. imports, but that is a major market for Peru, he said.

"We are not asking for money, and the product we produce does not hurt American producers. The purpose is to create legal employment. This is the way to fight drugs."

The lifting of these tariffs "is a matter of prime importance for the government of Peru," added Roberto Rodriguez, an economics officer for the Peruvian Embassy and Mr. Calmet's host in Washington.

Mr. Calmet said that Peru, which is in the midst of political upheaval and is experiencing 70 percent unemployment, is afraid that the United States is only concerned about drugs coming from Colombia. He praised Plan Colombia, which is being funded in part with $1.3 billion in U.S. tax money, but he said pressure in Colombia could be a disaster for Peru. Peru will receive about $42 million in the plan.

"The price of coca is going up, and there is the balloon effect," he said, noting that when drug traffickers are "squeezed" in one part of Latin America, they shift their operations to other countries.

"Peru has been very effective in its fight against drugs, but we are at a critical moment now," said Mr. Calmet.

Official visits

President Bush is broadening his foreign policy experience as he packs his schedule with visits from three presidents, a chancellor and a king over the next seven weeks.
He will meet President Francisco Flores of El Salvador on Friday. South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung is due to arrive March 6.
The White House yesterday announced that Bush will meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on March 29, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on April 2 and Jordanian King Abdullah on April 10.

Chandra bids farewell

Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra urged U.S. governors to boost trade with India and lead trade delegations to his country as he said goodbye to Washington officials.
Mr. Chandra, who is leaving after more than four years here, said the governors play a role in "further exploiting the potential of the bilateral relationship" between India and the United States.
Many state leaders, in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors' Association, attended Mr. Chandra's farewell reception, which also included members of the Bush administration.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, chairman of the governors' association, noted the contribution Indian-Americans have made "particularly in strengthening the relations between the people of the two countries."
Mr. Glendening also said the association would make a financial contribution to India's relief fund for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake.

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