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Snowden asylum bid impacts Ecuadorean growers


July 1, 2013
By By Michael Weissenstein The Associated Press

July 1, 2013, Pifo, Ecuador — Gino Descalzi used to fret about things
like 
aphids, mildew and the high cost of shipping millions of roses a
year from Ecuador to florists in the United States.

July 1, 2013, Pifo, Ecuador — Gino Descalzi used to fret about things like 
aphids, mildew and the high cost of shipping millions of roses a 
year from Ecuador to florists in the United States.

These days he’s 
worried about a 30-year-old former spy stuck thought to be in the 
transit area of the Moscow airport, and he can’t believe it. 



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The Obama administration sent a thinly veiled economic threat to 
this South American country last Thursday when it indefinitely delayed 
a decision to eliminate tariffs on imports of roses worth about $250 
million a year.

The move created leverage over the leftist 
government seen as likeliest to grant National Security Agency 
leaker Edward Snowden political asylum that would protect him from 
U.S. criminal charges. 



A week after Snowden began his stuttering, surreal flight across 
the globe, every passing day without him making progress toward 
Ecuadorean asylum makes the prospect look less likely.

But the men 
who grow roses, asters and delphinia in the thin air of Ecuador’s 
sun-soaked highlands are deeply concerned that, whatever happens to 
Snowden, they may turn out to be the most unlikely collateral damage 
from the geopolitical wrangle over his fate.

"This totally changes the financial panorama for our businesses 
and seriously affects the structure of our markets,’’ said Descalzi, 
whose 280 employees produce some 22 million roses a year.

"We’re 
just shocked that an event so far from the political and economic 
life of Ecuador has caused so much commotion and worry.’’

The rose benefit for Ecuador had been widely expected to be 
approved. Any delay, they say, puts it into uncomfortably uncertain 
territory. 



DAMAGED RELATIONS WITH U.S.

Even if Snowden never touches Ecuadorean soil and the U.S. cuts 
the 6.8 per cent tariff on Ecuadorean roses, along with tariffs on 
frozen broccoli and canned artichokes, Ecuadorean flower growers are 
worried that the brouhaha has damaged Ecuador in the eyes of the 
United States.

It is hurting its reputation for stability and reliability 
among the buyers who must decide between flowers from Ecuador and 
the already tariff-free blooms from its nearby market-dominant 
competitor, Colombia.

"This is not a mathematical equation,’’ said Benito Jaramillo, 
the head of the Ecuadorean flower-growers’ association.

The graduate 
of Texas A&M and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
employs hundreds of people growing "summer flowers’’ – a category 
of less-flashy blooms like hydrangeas and asters – on his farm about 
a half-hour from the capital, Quito. 



"The point is that there are a lot of other factors that damage 
our industry’s image and competitiveness in the mid-term,’’ 
Jaramillo said. 



A MAJOR INDUSTRY IN ECUADOR

Flowers are serious business in Ecuador. 

The industry says it employs about 50,000 people on about 550 
farms across the country and is indirectly responsible for 110,000 
jobs, putting it after only oil, seafood and bananas in the ranks of 
the country’s biggest exporters.

It boasts that the long days, rich 
sunlight and cool nights of the Andean highlands mean the heads of 
flowers, particularly roses, grow fuller and richer than those from 
Colombia, which they scoff at as more suitable for grocery stores 
than florists. 



Industry representatives spent around a year campaigning hard in 
Washington for the inclusion of cut roses under the Generalized 
System of Preferences, or GSP, a mechanism meant to encourage 
development in lower-income countries.

A broader trade pact that 
covers a wide range of Ecuadorean products, the Andean Trade 
Preference Act, had been widely expected to expire next month.

That 
now seems certain, not least because Ecuador declared Thursday that 
it was preemptively rejecting it. 



Now, the flower industry has turned its focus to its own 
government, which it desperately hopes won’t offer asylum to 
Snowden.

A small group of U.S. senators explicitly threatened trade 
retaliation if Ecuador harbours Snowden. And on Saturday, 
Vice-President Joe Biden asked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to 
turn down any asylum request. 



"We can’t put the interests of 14 million Ecuadoreans at risk 
because of a 29-year-old hacker whom we don’t even know,’’ Descalzi 
said. "This gentleman doesn’t mean anything to us.’’ 



The business impacts of the Snowden affair have infuriated 
Ecuador’s main business groups, who accuse the government of putting 
ideology before commerce.

The decision to renounce the Andean Trade deal was "permeated by 
political and ideological motives,’’ said Roberto Aspiazu, chairman 
of a coalition of Ecuador’s largest industries.

The country’s 
business sector is calling on the government to manage the 
relationship with the United States "with the utmost care,’’ he 
said. 



GOVERNMENT COMPENSATION TO GROWERS SUGGESTED

The government said it planned to compensate business damaged by 
the loss of U.S. tariff benefits and has painted its decision in 
terms of the nation’s sovereignty versus U.S. threats. 



"But in any case, now they’re wanting to destroy Ecuador for 
receiving an asylum application from Mr. Snowden and they are 
pulling out the rubbish that we spy as well,’’ President Correa 
said.

"If you behave badly we will take (the trade deal) away from 
you. Well, here you have the sovereign response from Ecuador, my 
comrades.’’ 



But business groups warned that any government compensation could 
be interpreted as a subsidy subject to international litigation. 



When asked how he feels about the whole situation, Jaramillo, the 
head of the flower association, thought before responding with a 
single word: “frustrated.’’ 



"One isolated issue shouldn’t create so much damage,’’ he said.



(Gonzalo Solano contributed to this report.)


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