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Bolivia 'boosting' anti-drug efforts

NEWS.au.com September 13, 2006

BOLIVIA is moderately optimistic it will win an extension of United States trade preferences that are conditioned on fighting cocaine production because it is boosting anti-drug efforts, the country's vice president said today.

Alvaro Garcia Linera told Reuters in an interview that he presented an update on Bolivia's drug fight to State Department officials, including the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, on Monday.

The fight against drugs is one of the central points in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, or ATPDEA, which is due to expire at the end of the year. The program gives top cocaine-producing countries in South America expanded duty-free access to the United States in an effort to boost their legal industry and job opportunities.

If it is not renewed, Bolivia the world's third-largest producer of cocaine will face higher tariffs on its exports to the United States.

"We stay moderately optimistic about the extension of the trade preference," Garcia Linera said in the interview.

"The new strategy of the (drug) fight is the intensification of prohibition, better control of the borders to prevent the entry of acids and components to prepare the drug and more police raids," he said in Washington, where he is on his second visit in two months.

He emphasized that Bolivia wants to improve relations with the United States on all levels.

Garcia Linera said the numbers prove that Bolivia is doing its job in the cocaine battle.

He said Bolivia is eradicating 25ha to 27ha of coca a day, up from 5ha a day earlier this year, and will wipe out 5200ha this year, meeting its commitment to the United States.

Colombia, Ecuador and Peru also receive benefits under the Andean program, which could expire in December if the U.S. Congress does not approve their extension.

Peru and Colombia are also waiting for Congress to ratify free trade agreements negotiated with the United States, which would end the benefits.