Bush Suspends Bolivia's Participation in ATPDEA Trade Program
To see a video produced by The Democracy Center last month featuring interviews with three workers whose jobs are on the line, see here. The video was also shown at the Trade Representative's public hearing on the Bush decree.
In a statement, Mr. Bush's press secreatry declared:
President Bush signed a proclamation that suspends the designation of Bolivia as a beneficiary country under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) and the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). The suspension, which takes effect on December 15, 2008, is the result of Bolivia's failure to cooperate with the United States on counternarcotics efforts, which is one criterion for ATPA and ATPDEA eligibility. If Bolivia were to improve its performance under the ATPA and ATPDEA programs' criteria, the President would have the discretion to issue a proclamation to redesignate Bolivia as a beneficiary country.
Seeking to Tie President Obama's Hands?
There is certainly a reasonable debate to be had about Bolivia's current anti-drug efforts, and the Bolivian government has expressed a willingness to have it. But in reality the Bush announcement looks mostly like a political effort to tie the hands of his successor on an issue fraught with politics.
Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have raised questions about President Morales' commitment to deal with the portion of Bolivia's coca crop that eventually ends up as part of the illegal drug trade. To be clear, a strong portion of Bolivia's coca goes for traditional uses such as chewing, and to legitimate industrial uses such as tea. But not all of it does and a good deal of Bolivian coca does feed the illegal drug trade, though primarily headed toward Brazil and Argentina, not the U.S. (which imports its cocaine primarily from U.S. ally Colombia).
That concern, tied to the ATPDEA agreement, was translated in October into a much more sensible approach, and a bipartisan one – legislation that renewed Bolivia's participation in ATPDEA for six months (instead of the year granted to other nations), pending a review by the incoming administration. That approach made sense at a variety of levels. It was bipartisan and it left the policy choice to the new president as part of a new political approach to the region. This is very different than putting that policy decision in the hands of a lame-duck President whose deep unpopularity in the region is rivaled only by his deep unpopularity at home.
The bipartisan Congressional approach also maximized the leverage that U.S. policy makers might have on Bolivia anti-drug efforts. The one issue in Bolivia/U.S. relations that the Morales government has worked hard is the country's continued participation in those trade preferences, a theme I heard over and over again in my recent meetings with both Bolivian and U.S. policy makers. The Bush executive decree only pushes Bolivia father away from being influenced by Washington, as it seeks to replace U.S. markets for those textiles and other products.
And an administration headed by a Harvard MBA might at least have enough common sense to know that markets broken are not so easily put back together, as U.S. suppliers look elsewhere.
All this will put the incoming Obama administration in the awkward position of having to reverse the Bush decree just to put its policy in alignment with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, a move it should make quickly nonetheless. President Obama will have some strong political cover if he does make such a move, including from the senior Republican in the Senate on foreign policy issues, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. President Morales met with Lugar last week in Washington, after which the former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced:
The United States regrets any perception that it has been disrespectful, insensitive, or engaged in any improper activities that would disregard the legitimacy of the current Bolivian government or its sovereignty. We hope to renew our relationship with Bolivia, and to develop a rapport grounded on respect and transparency. In this regard, after appropriate and constructive official contacts, I hope that we will have a U.S. Ambassador in La Paz soon, and that we will look forward to having a Bolivian Ambassador here in Washington, D.C.
Lifting the suspension on the ATPDEA with Bolivia will strengthen the growing political and economic relationship between our nations and help bring new jobs and good will to the region.
In effect, the Bush administration's final decision on Bolivia and ATPDEA this week is the equivalent of Mr. Bush leaving a plate of stale turkey leftovers in the White House refrigerator, with a note encouraging the new occupant to eat up. President Obama will be far better off dumping the unwelcome gift in the trash and starting over fresh with Bolivia. There is plenty of eagerness by the Morales government to do so, and support on Capitol Hill as well.