Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz announced Wednesday that a team of three Costa Ricans, two of whom helped negotiate a controversial trade pact with the United States in 2003, has been chosen to represent the country in negotiations for a Central American-European Union Association Agreement.
Chief negotiator Roberto Echandi – who is also Costa Rica’s ambassador to the European Union – as well as adjunct negotiators Cristian Guillermet, representing the Foreign Relations Ministry, and Fernando Ocampo, representing the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX), will work with representatives of other Central American countries in the coming months to prepare for the first E.U. meetings, expected to begin mid-year, Ruiz told reporters following President Oscar Arias’ weekly Cabinet meeting.
Asked why he chose Echandi and Ocampo, who served on the often-criticized negotiating team of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA) – activists at anti-CAFTA marches often claim the pact was negotiated “behind the backs of Costa Ricans” and that negotiators ceded too much ground – Ruiz said they’re simply the most qualified people for the job.
“It’s not a political team. It’s a technical team,” he said, adding later that, “we need the best people there, and these are the best people.”
However, the government plans to “learn from the experiences we had (with CAFTA) and involve the ministries a great deal” in the negotiation process, as well as social groups, Ruiz said. The Foreign Ministry and COMEX will work with ministers to ensure the sectors under their leadership are represented, and will coordinate with the Planning Ministry to ensure that aid or cooperation the European Union offers during negotiations meets Costa Rica’s needs.