San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Signs CAFTA, Other Laws Face Challenge

Even as President Oscar Arias signed the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) Wednesday, the pact’s fate was uncertain.

Libertarian Movement faction head Luis Antonio Barrantes said he doubted the Legislative Assembly could approve the now 12 laws that Costa Rica must pass by March 1, 2008 to implement the treaty.

“There’s no way to do it,” Barrantes said. “It’s a really complicated panorama.”

Clapping legislators and ministers gave Arias a standing ovation as he signed the law, which Costa Ricans approved in a national referendum last month.

A group of 38 pro-CAFTA legislators are working to pass laws that would put Costa Rica in compliance with the treaty. But the other 19 legislators are trying to block these laws.

“Thirty-eight valiant legislators … are braving every type of pressure. . . to push this implementation agenda,” President Arias said after signing the treaty.

But for all their efforts, only one of the 12 laws has been approved. The twelfth law, concerning intellectual property, has not even been discussed because the Foreign Trade Ministry announced just this week that it was required.

If the assembly cannot pass the dozen laws in time, Costa Rica must seek an extension. Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz said Wednesday that the ministry has not considered that possibility.

“We haven’t yet thought about asking permission” to extend the deadline, he said. “We trust that the assembly can … finish this process.”


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