San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

CAFTA Launch Approaches In El Salvador, Nicaragua

The controversial Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) is tentatively scheduled to take effect March 1 between the United States, El Salvador, and possibly Nicaragua.

In Costa Rica, the yet-to-be-approved agreement is stalled in the Legislative Assembly – legislators announced they would postpone work on the pact until the name of the next President is officially announced (see separate article).

The other CAFTA signatories – Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic – have all ratified the agreement and are in the process of preparing their legislation for implementation. The agreement was originally set to take effect among the countries Jan. 1, but was delayed because of U.S. assertions that the signatories had not yet met the legislative requirements outlined in the agreement (TT, Jan. 6).

Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly has been discussing the agreement since President Abel Pacheco submitted it late last year.

CAFTA was an important issue in the recent elections, particularly since the two leading candidates, Oscar Arias and Ottón Solís, hold different opinions on the agreement.

Arias, of the National Liberation Party (PLN), supports it and Solís, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), maintains it should be renegotiated.

U.S. authorities insist this is not an option Costa Rica should count on. U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale told The Tico Times earlier this month that the idea of renegotiation is “just not realistic” (TT, Feb. 17).

The financial weekly El Financiero reported this week that the United States and El Salvador had renegotiated a section dealing with quotas on sensitive agricultural quotas, including yellow corn, rice, dairy products and pork. The weekly reported that under CAFTA, multilateral sections can only be amended with the consent of all parties, but bilateral sections can be amended with the consent of the two parties concerned.

Elaine Samson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in San José, told The Tico Times that the text of the agreement does not make a distinction between amendments on multilateral and bilateral clauses.

“It says the annexes (the bilateral sections) are an integral part of the agreement, and all the parties have to agree on amendments,” she told The Tico Times, adding that “parties” are defined as countries where the agreement has been ratified and has taken effect. Since CAFTA has not yet taken effect in any countries, no amendments could have been made to date, she said.

Regarding the specifics of U.S.-Salvadoran conversations regarding agricultural quotas, Samson said the embassy’s Agricultural Office had requested additional information, but it was not made available by press time.


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