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US eyes suspending trade benefits for Argentina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States could soon suspend trade benefits for Argentina because of that country's failure to pay awards in two long-running investment disputes with U.S. companies, a U.S. trade official said on Monday.

"We hope to make a recommendation to the president (Barack Obama) in the near term," a U.S. trade official told Reuters in response to an Argentine newspaper report that Argentina could soon lose the U.S. trade benefits.

The United States currently waives duties on some imports from Argentina under the Generalized System of Preferences program, a trade program aimed at helping create jobs in developing countries.

"USTR accepted two petitions in June 2010 seeking withdrawal of Argentina's GSP benefits due to the Argentine government's non-payment of two separate ICSID (the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes) arbitral awards," the U.S. trade official said.

"Our review of the two petitions is at an advanced stage, and the matter is being discussed at senior levels of the administration. The administration takes the two petitions very seriously and has engaged with the Argentine government at the highest levels on the underlying issues," the official added.

The official did not have more details on the two cases.

One case is believed to involve Azurix Corp, a Houston-based water services and investment company that was granted a 30-year water concession in Argentina in 1999.

Last year, Representative John Culberson, a Texas Republican, wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging him to help Azurix collect an ICSID award from Argentina totaling more than $165 million.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Will Dunham)

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