San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Europe Calls for More Regional Integration

Flying in the face of the European Union’s demands, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is insisting that Costa Rica have its own negotiator to sit down at the table with the trade giant across the Atlantic.

In an attempt to give Central America a jump start in regional integration, the European Union is asking that Central America agree on one negotiator to strike an association agreement, which would include a free-trade agreement, between the two regions.

“To have one negotiator … is to organize for more continuity and better results,” said E.U. Foreign Relations Director Eneko Landaburu.

The preliminary stages of negotiations with the European Union have already set off tiffs in the region. In August, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala supposedly went behind Costa Rica’s back to appoint Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera as coordinator for the negotiations. Though Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry said Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno knew about the appointment, Stagno claims he was never consulted (TT, Sept. 1)

Caldera’s naming will be discussed at the next summit of Presidents of the isthmus, scheduled for Nov. 15 in Guatemala.

Costa Rica, hoping to get the same oneon-one treatment it received during negotiations for the Central American Free- Trade Agreement with the United States(CAFTA), is telling the European Union it won’t budge.

“I’ve suggested that we follow the negotiation model that was used for CAFTA, in which … each country had its own negotiation team, which considered the differences of each country,” Arias said Monday at a forum on Central American integration.

Despite the unresolved dispute, Landaburu guaranteed Costa Rica would not be excluded from negotiations, the daily La Nación reported.

If Costa Rica is granted its own negotiator, it wouldn’t be the first time Costa Rica got its way.

Despite the original U.S. demand that Central America agree upon one negotiator for the region, Costa Rica was able to not only get its own negotiator, but also extend its talks with the northern trade behemoth months beyond other countries’ negotiations (TT, Dec. 24, 2003)

This time around, Costa Rica is claiming it deserves its own negotiation table with European officials because the country represents 60% of Central America’s trade with the union.

Bi-regional talks could begin as soon as March, with the goal of eliminating tariffs and improving political cooperation and dialogue between Central America and the European Union.

However, as has been apparent leading up to the negotiations, Central America has a long way to go to integrate itself.

“Central America is trying to take on two challenges at the same time – it is trying to insert itself in the world market while integrating.

They are two very complex things, and both necessary,” said Miguel Hakim, assistant secretary for the Latin American-Iberian Secretary General.

Hakim is one of dozens of leaders from around Central America and Europe who traveled to San José for the forum this week.

Attempts at Central American unity date back to 1958, when the Central American Free-Trade Area was launched. Efforts to integrate have been thwarted by political and civil conflicts and economic crises throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Arias said since an integration push in the early 1990s, which included the approval of the Tegucigalpa Protocol to integrate Central America, and a 1994 Alliance for Sustainable Development, integration efforts have remained “slow and uncertain.”

He said the answer is to consolidate the region’s economies with a common tariff on foreign goods, unification of Customs and implementation of the Plan Puebla-Panama to integrate the region’s infrastructure. Political consolidation is also necessary, he added.

However, Arias questioned the legitimacy of existing institutions pushing regional integration.

He said it is necessary to revise the Central American Integration System (SICA), which is working toward integrating the region’s Customs systems. He said SICA’s goal should be to insert the region in the world economy. Also, Arias called the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) “onerous,” costly and useless, and said it should be dissolved. Costa Rica has thus far refused membership in the regional parliament.

SICA’s Secretary General Aníbal Quiñónez declined comment on Costa Rica’s demands.

“Those are issues of the state … integration is already happening at the economic and social level,” he said. Then he corrected himself.

“Actually, it’s not integration. We were already integrated once. It’s reintegration,” he said. He was referring to the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America, an experiment in republican democracy that included Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala (including most of Chiapas). It lasted from 1823 to 1840.


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