Gov’t Unmoved by CAFTA Vote

July 8, 2005

DESPITE the recent passage of theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA) in theU.S. Senate, bringing it one major stepcloser to becoming a reality, Costa Rica isnot hurrying to follow suit.While President Abel Pacheco maintainsthat he will wait to send the controversialtrade agreement to the LegislativeAssembly, the Foreign Trade Ministrycontinues to walk the line between supportingPacheco’s stance and promotingthe pact it negotiated and signed.Ministry officials are now traveling thecountry as part of an educational campaign,speaking with citizens about the“content and achievements” of CAFTA,Amparo Pacheco, Vice-Minister ofForeign Trade, told The Tico Times.“Many things are said (about CAFTA)that aren’t true,” she said. “It’s importantthat people gain clarity.”OFFICIALS gave their fourth presentationin the new forum series this weekand plan to continue through the end of themonth, according to the vice-minister.“We are visiting different regions ofthe country, giving weekly seminars abouteach chapter of the treaty,” she said.On July 1 – the day after the U.S.Senate’s approval of CAFTA made passagein the U.S. House of Representativesthe only remaining obstacle to the agreementtaking effect (TT, July 1) – Pachecoand her counterparts from the Ministry ofAgriculture and Livestock and theMinistry of Economy, Industry andCommerce visited the Pacific port city ofPuntarenas and spoke with residents aboutCAFTA’s implications for telecommunicationsand insurance, intellectual propertyrights and commerce.Today, she said, the group plans to visitPérez Zeledón, in the Southern Zone, todiscuss sanitary regulations.MANY other organizations are alreadyconducting informational campaigns bothin favor of and against the free-tradeagreement. The Costa Rican-AmericanChamber of Commerce and its counterpartsthroughout Central Americalaunched an ongoing campaign in Nov.2004 to build support for the agreementamong workers (TT, Nov. 12, 2004).Meanwhile, CAFTA opponent OttónSolís, presidential candidate for theCitizen Action Party (PAC), has met withschool groups and even with members ofRepublicans Abroad Costa Rica, many ofwhom are firm believers in the trade agreement(TT, June 17).One vocal opponent of CAFTArenewed his efforts this week. FormerPresident Rodrigo Carazo (1978-1982), inan open letter to President Pacheco, saidCAFTA would convert Costa Rica into a“re-exporter of arms of war” and allegedthe accord allows the free trade of weaponssuch as guns, grenades and bombs.“This framework of a pro-weaponsfree-trade agreement is definitely unacceptable,and shows the hypocrisy of those whosupport the free-trade agreement and saythey fight for disarmament,” he wrote.WHILE the pact’s proponents decrythe increasing possibility of being left outof CAFTA, Foreign Trade MinisterManuel González said this week there isno cause for panic.“I don’t see any reason to make a radicalchange from… counting on the approvalof (tax reform),” he said Tuesday.President Pacheco, who has expresseddoubts regarding whether the pact wouldbenefit all Costa Ricans, has conditionedsending it to the assembly on recommendationsfrom a “council of notables,”charged with studying the agreement, andthe passage of tax reforms.HOWEVER, if the U.S. Houseapproves the agreement – which couldhappen as soon as next week – Costa Ricawill face a narrowing window of opportunityto be part of CAFTA.According to former Trade MinisterAlberto Trejos, U.S. approval wouldprompt discussions with the other countriesthat have approved it – to date, El Salvador,Guatemala and Honduras – to “agree on adate, which is usually very close, on whichthe agreement begins to apply… The clockstarts ticking.”From the date on which the agreementtakes effect, Costa Rica would have twoyears to approve it or be left out. If PresidentPacheco waits for the next President, whowill take office in May 2006, to send theagreement to the assembly – a move someanalysts have predicted – and legislatorstake nine months or more to analyze the pact,as some legislators have said is possible,the country could cut it close.“After those two years, you have to askfor a spot at the table again,” Trejos toldThe Tico Times. “That’s a date you certainlydon’t want to go through.”

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