Ecuador's communications minister says the country is renouncing trade preferences that are up for U.S. congressional renewal.

It comes as Ecuador considers the asylum request of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, which has prompted critics in the U.S. to suggest retaliation against the South American country.

Minister Fernando Alvarado told a news conference Thursday the benefits were originally granted for help in the fight against drugs but have become "an instrument of blackmail." He said "Ecuador unilaterally and irrevocably renounces said preferences."

The program has given Ecuador millions of dollars in benefits, but it faced an uphill fight for renewal. Alvarado did not mention another effort to win trade benefits under a presidential order.

Alvarez said his country won't bow "to mercantile interests, as important as they may be."