Chevron Urges U.S. to Revoke Ecuador Trade; Will Likely Face Hurdle for Obama Support

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Chevron Urges U.S. to Revoke Ecuador Trade; Will Likely Face Hurdle for Obama Support


Byline: Tom LoBianco, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Chevron executives are renewing efforts to have Ecuador's preferential trade status with the U.S. revoked next month, although the oil company is unlikely to find a sympathetic ear with President Obama.

Chevron and its subsidiary Texaco have been locked in a legal battle in the South American country since 1993 when about 50 Ecuadorean Indian residents of Lago Agro sued Texaco, accusing the American oil exploration and extraction of creating an Amazonian Chernobyl. Chevron executives expect an Ecuadorean court to file soon a judgment against them in the class-action suit on behalf of tens of thousands of Indians.

The company says the judgment, which could reach up to $27 billion and which Chevron says has been whipped up by populist President Rafael Correa, should give the U.S. grounds to cancel Ecuador's benefits under the Andean Trade Preferences Act.

The only remedy is for the preferences to be suspended, Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

But Chevron faces a large hurdle in the form of Mr. Obama, who has previously supported Ecuador's trade privileges and is a schoolmate of the plaintiffs' top lawyer.

While we are not prejudging the outcome of the case, we do believe the 30,000 indigenous residents deserve their day in court, Mr. Obama wrote in a 2006 letter to then-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, co-written with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, supporting Ecuador's trade status.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and the White House did not return calls for comment.

The oil company also has been bombarded with negative stories surrounding the lawsuit and is the target of a new documentary produced in part by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which Chevron counts as an ally, said revoking Ecuador's trade status is unlikely.

It is more than likely the U.S. will keep the trade preferences going, but we will have to wait and see what happens, said Christopher Wink, senior director for international policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Steven Donziger, a trial lawyer who played basketball with Mr. Obama when the two were at Harvard Law School, has led the effort on behalf of 48 residents of Ecuador. Mr. Donziger also worked with the producers of a documentary about the battle, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival. …

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