San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica to Seek More Time on CAFTA Bills

Costa Rica will miss the deadline for implementing a free-trade agreement with the United States, President Oscar Arias acknowledged this week.
Arias will ask other treaty members for more time to pass laws that would put Costa Rica in compliance with the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which was negotiated  by the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
The deadline for implementing the treaty is Feb. 29, two years after CAFTA went into effect for the second country, El Salvador.
Lawmakers and  business leadershere said the United States, as well as other CAFTA countries, will likely give Costa Rica more time.
The Legislative Assembly has passed just five of 11 bills required, in some form, to enter the treaty, which was ratified by referendum in October. A fragile coalition of 38 lawmakers supports the bills, while the remaining 19 lawmakers oppose them.
The Arias administration will formally ask for the extension in mid-February, although Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz said he is already talking informally with his Central American counterparts.
In the coming days, the government’s National Liberation Party (PLN) will study how much more time is required for the remaining bills to be passed and published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper.
Attacks between the Arias administration and the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) intensified this week. Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias said Citizen Action was the main obstacle to CAFTA’s implementation.
PAC lawmakers, who oppose the treaty, have slowed the bills’ progress by presenting hundreds of motions and boycotting legislative sessions.
“The Nobel Prize for slowness and filibustering goes to our Congress,” President Arias said at least twice late last month.
In a letter to President Arias this week, Citizen Action leader Ottón Solís questioned whether the 11 bills were truly required for  Costa Rica’s entrance into CAFTA. Writing from Florida, where he is teaching at the University of Gainesville for a semester, Solís said Arias should seek to enter the treaty now.
Lawmakers this week passed two CAFTA bills: A reform to trademark law, and the Budapest Treaty, which makes it easier to patent inventions involving microorganisms.
The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) will now study the Budapest Treaty to make sure it does not violate the Constitution. This is common practice with international treaties.
The first CAFTA bill passed regulates the relationship between foreign companies and their representatives in Costa Rica. The second bill reforms the penal code, calling for jail terms of two to eight years for people who bribe public officials and officials who accept bribes. The third gives inventors of new plant varieties the exclusive right to market them for up to 25 years.
The six bills that remain to be passed are in various stages of trámite in Congress.
Lawmakers have applied a special fast-track process to four of them. A fifth is in a special 19-member commission with the power to approve laws.

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