San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘It’s an Agreement that Goes Beyond Trade’

One man who helped bring Central America and the European Union to the bargaining table won’t be around to seal the deal. Tomás Abadía, a Spaniard, was the E.U. business representative in Costa Rica for four years until his term expired last month.

During his time in Costa Rica, he helped negotiate the association agreement discussions into existence, but now he and his wife Pilar are back in Europe, and his post has been taken up by Cristina Martins-Barreira from Portugal.

Abadía has two sons, Santiago, 28, and Alejandro, 24. Santiago is a music professor and composer at the Brussels Conservatory and Alejandro just finished a Master’s degree in graphic arts.

The Tico Times caught up with Abadía just before he left Costa Rica to chat about the coming association agreement negotiations, which started Monday.

TT: What will the association agreement include?

TA: It’s an agreement that goes further than free trade. It’s based on three pillars – the pillar of dialogue and political cooperation, that would basically be putting ourselves in agreement on the great topics of our time: democracy, human rights, drug trafficking, organized crime, sustainable development, environmental concerns, immigration.

There’s also the pillar of a free-trade treaty. It would liberalize the trade of goods, services and investment.

Then, there is the pillar of cooperation, which can play an important role in the fight against poverty and lessen the asymmetry that exists between the European Union and Central America. It’s very, very important.

We’re in a period, 2007-13, when there will be an injection of resources of around $1.5 billion as a donation. Likewise, it’s going to be a very ambitious accord in the sense that it’s going to give us much better political coordination in this complicated world that we have.

What steps has Central America made toward integration? What remains?

I think it’s very important to mention that on June 25, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua signed the Customs Union framework agreement (Costa Rica signed onto the framework last week) which is the most important start for us because the association agreement is not going to be bilateral, but rather a negotiation with the whole region.

Panama is ready to make the initial steps toward the Central American Secretariat of Economic Integration (SIECA) and there is the possibility of it participating in the negotiations. From our point of view, as Europeans, the important thing would be to negotiate with all six countries.

How do you expect that to happen?

Panama is a very interesting country. Panama last year became the principal destination for European investment, very much higher than the rest of the region. It’s a country with a great future ahead of it because of the widening of the canal, which is going to improve the connection between Europe and the Pacific. It’s a country in which the government of (President Martín) Torrijos has achieved a very strong consolidation of its democracy and I think that in the next eight years it’s going to be a force.

In my opinion, Panama offers a lot. It offers an economy very open to foreigners.

Is there a possibility of negotiating a separate association agreement with Panama?

No.We completely exclude that possibility. We believe that (this agreement) will be very positive for the European Union and Panama should be a part.

Wouldn’t lumping Panama in with the rest of Central America be a big change since it has always seen itself more as a part of South America?

Yes. But what happens is  it is a gradualchange. I imagine that with Panama it’s easier to come to understandings with countries of 4 or 5 million people, economies similar to theirs, than with the huge Brazilian economy.

How many rounds? Timetable?

Our idea is complete the negotiations in two years. By May 2008, we hope to have the political and cooperation pillars very advanced, the maximum possible. That would be our objective, to try to advance as much as possible those two pillars.

Later, well, try to finish in the course of two years. These kinds of negotiations, if they last longer than three or four years, the impetus disappears and it doesn’t have continuity. So the idea is to have a result after two years.

What will be the most difficult elements of this association agreement?

It’s going to be a struggle to improve market access for (Central American) bananas, also sugar. Later, there will also be the chapter on services. As you know, in all these trade negotiations, there’s also the part of improving access to the service market.

This to me seems the most sensitive. But I frankly believe that it’s an agreement that’s not going to have serious difficulties outside of these three points.


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