By Doug Palmer
With just a short time left in office, Ecuadorian Trade Minister Iván Ontaneda hopes to put his country and the United States on a path toward a free trade agreement. In an interview with Morning Trade, Ontaneda said a deal would help put Ecuador on a level playing field with Colombia and Peru, its two Andean neighbors that already have FTAs with the United States.
But his drive comes in the midst of a run-off presidential election in which leftist economist Andrés Arauz is leading his conservative rival Guillermo Lasso by a nearly 10-point margin, according to a poll conducted earlier this month. Two other polls, however, show the race as a dead heat two weeks before the runoff.
Arauz is the candidate of former President Rafael Correa’s Union of Hope party, which favors state-led development projects and social spending funded largely by commodities exports. Current Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno reversed many of Correa’s policies and adopted a more free-market approach.
GSP not enough: Still, Ontaneda said he believes whichever candidate wins in April would want to pursue talks on a free trade agreement with the U.S. Ecuador currently has duty free access for many goods under the Generalized System of Preferences program, but that’s not as comprehensive as a free trade agreement would be.
“Ecuador, unfortunately, year after year, needs to knock on the door to please ask for a preference in their tariffs,” Ontaneda said, speaking through a translator, referring to USTR’s process for deciding whether to add certain items to GSP. More importantly, the absence of a free trade pact with the United States “has not allowed us to enter in an efficient way to the added-value chains which are fundamental to the economy of a country,” he said.