The Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), formerly slated to make its grand debut on the Legislative Assembly floor this week, remains in the wings as the Government Printer works to reprint the massive pact and accompanying texts – a requirement that must be fulfilled before debate can begin. Printer Director Nelson Loaiza announced Tuesday that the publication won’t take place until Jan. 26.
The Foreign Affairs Commission, which debated CAFTA for more than a year and voted in December to send it to the assembly floor, also voted late last year that the official government daily La Gaceta must republish the agreement, along with the interpretive statements the commission approved and the supporting and opposing opinions presented by various political parties in recent weeks (TT, Jan. 12).
The printer will publish 1,500 copies of the special edition; each one will contain eight volumes, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Security and the Interior. The total cost? Just under ¢120 million (approximately $232,421). La Gaceta first published the text of the more than 2,000-page agreement in November 2005 at a cost of almost $70,000.
The Citizen Action Party (PAC), which, with 17 legislators in the 57-member assembly, is the largest anti-CAFTA group, has long made CAFTA’s public dissemination, or lack thereof, an issue in the debate about the agreement. In July, PAC legislator Alberto Salom filed a case before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) alleging that the government had not printed enough copies of the agreement – in 2005, it published 1,500 copies, down from its normal run of 4,000 – but the court rejected his claim (TT, Jan. 12).
According to Salom’s chief of staff, Jens Pfeiffer, the small print run and poor distribution meant many citizens in outlying areas had no access to the pact, which would reduce or eliminate most tariffs on items traded between the United States and Central America.
Discussion may be delayed for now, but the Executive Branch has been working to shore up support for CAFTA by backing bills some legislators have identified as prerequisites for their support of the trade pact. Late last week, Casa Presidencial, which is in charge of setting the legislative agenda during the current “extraordinary” December-April session, prioritized bills by the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) and National Union Party (PUN), according to the daily La Nación.
Both parties have indicated they will support CAFTA if it’s accompanied by certain social legislation.
The PUSC bill would reform the Social Development Fund (FODESAF), while the PUN bill would make health a constitutional right, the daily reported.