San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

C.R. Envoy to Meet with U.S. Trade Official

Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz will meet with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau in Washington, D.C., Thursday to formally seek an extension for entering a free-trade agreement with the United States.

According to an opinion released last week by the government’s top lawyer, Costa Rica can enter the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) now. But the treaty would automatically take effect in 90 days – not enough time for Costa Rica to pass laws and norms required to comply with the treaty, said Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

Instead of risking expensive lawsuits, Arias said, Costa Rica would seek to extend the March 1 deadline for entering the treaty.

The executive branches of CAFTA’s other signers – the United States, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic – must agree to an extension.

President Oscar Arias’ administration has been talking with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) since early February about an extension, and Ruiz has reached out to his Central American counterparts, said Rodrigo Arias, the president’s brother. He did not say how much more time Costa Rica will request.

Gretchen Hamel, a USTR press officer, confirmed that Thursday’s meeting is on Veroneau’s agenda.

Lawmakers have approved two of 12 bills required, in some form, to implement the treaty. Five other bills have made significant progress, despite filibuster tactics by the anti-CAFTA Citizen Action Party (PAC).

The pace of debate may quicken after a meeting this week between President Arias and PAC faction head Elizabeth Fonseca.

“We agreed that we have spent too much time talking about CAFTA, and it’s time to turn the page and think about other things that are also important to the country,” said Rodrigo Arias, who also attended the meeting. “I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Rodrigo said the executive branch would likely call for debate on long-awaited bills, supported by PAC, to promote security, help small businesses and reform the electoral code.

Fonseca said PAC’s 17 members would consider attending morning legislative sessions, which are canceled when not enough lawmakers show up.


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