February 28, 2008 / 8:35 PM / in 11 years

Congress extends Andean trade benefits 10 months

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate gave final congressional approval on Thursday to a 10-month extension of trade benefits for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia that President George W. Bush is expected to sign into law.

The Senate approved the measure by a voice vote. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday.

The Andean trade preference program dates back to the early 1990s and allows the four countries to export most of their goods to U.S. market without paying duties.

It is part of U.S. efforts to discourage cocaine production in the Andean region by providing other job opportunities.

The program was set to expire on Friday for the third time in a little more than a year because of jostling between the White House and Congress over trade with the region.

The Bush administration supported temporary renewal of the program, but wants Congress to replace it for Colombia with a bilateral free trade agreement.

House Democratic leaders have said they cannot support that deal until Colombia shows more progress on reducing violence against trade unionists and putting murderers in jail.

Congress approved a bilateral free trade pact with Peru late last year. But both sides are still working to formally implement that deal, so Peru also needed an extension of current duty-free access.

Meanwhile, some Republicans want to examine whether to continue trade preferences for Ecuador and Bolivia.

The latest short-term extension “signifies that Congress is concerned with the deteriorating investment climate for U.S. investors in Ecuador and Bolivia and that these countries must quickly and completely comply with all their international obligations with regard to investment disputes,” said Rep. Wally Herger, a California Republican, on Wednesday.

Editing by Jackie Frank

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