Two trade programs allowing developing nations to sell their products duty-free in the United States would be extended for a year under legislation approved by the House Monday.
The first program, implemented in 1976, allows some 132 developing countries to export about 3,400 types of products without paying duties. Among those, the 44 least developed may export an additional 1,400 types of products.
The second program, enacted in 1991, provides duty-free treatment to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as a means of helping those countries develop economic alternatives to drug production and trafficking.
Bolivia was also part of the original Andean Trade Preferences Act, but the Obama administration ended its benefits earlier this year because of lack of cooperation in counternarcotics efforts.
Both programs are set to terminate at the end of the year. The bill to extend them now goes to the Senate. The House approved the measure by voice vote.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said the cost of the one-year extension is $785 million, to be paid for by extending customs user fees.
The two programs enjoy wide support among U.S. textile, apparel and footwear groups because imports, particularly from the Andean region, use U.S. cotton, yarn and fabric.
With time running out in this session, Congress was unable to consider legislation to overhaul the first program, known as the Generalized System of Preferences, and make more countries eligible.
"There is broad agreement that our trade programs need to be stable, they need to be simplified, and they need to be more effective, and they need to help more people," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., author of legislation to modernize the program.
There was also some support for removing Ecuador from the Andean program because of its corruption, anti-American politics and withdrawal from a bilateral investment treaty.
"Unfortunately, this legislation fails to recognize the serious questions that surround Ecuador's compliance with the eligibility criteria for this program," said Rep. David Camp of Michigan, top Republican on the Ways and Means panel.
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