U.S. officials threatened Ecuador with punitive trade measures after the country introduced an international resolution that encouraged breastfeeding during a global health conference, according to The New York Times. The threats reportedly occurred in May at the U.N.-affiliated World Health Assembly in Geneva.
The Times says the U.S. delegation opposed the measure, which was widely expected to be adopted. The U.S. officials, according to the Times, first tried to remove language from the resolution that called on nations to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding." Another section called on countries to restrict promotion of food products that could have harmful effects on children.
When U.S. efforts to water down the measure failed, the delegates reportedly threatened Ecuadorian delegates with retaliatory trade measures and said the U.S. would withdraw military aid unless the country withdrew the measure. The strong-arm tactics worked, and Ecuador dropped its support of the resolution.
But the Russian delegation eventually stepped in and introduced the measure without any threats from the American officials, the Times reports. However, U.S. officials tried for two more days to use procedural methods to stymie its ultimate adoption.
The Times says it spoke with more than a dozen participants at the assembly from several countries. Most of the sources requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from U.S. officials. At least a dozen countries in Africa and Latin America reportedly declined to support the measure over fears of retaliation.
The State Department declined the Times' request to comment and said it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, however, defended its decision to reword the resolution.
"The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children," an HHS spokesperson told the Times.
The Times says baby food industry lobbyists attended the meetings but health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they influenced the Americans' threats.