Costa Rica: EU not interested in free-trade agreement

July 4, 2008

Costa Rican officials announced they are not satisfied with the market opening proposal issued by the European Union (EU) prior to the beginning of the fourth round of negotiations for an eventual EU-Central America agreement. Costa Rican trade officials stated that they “do no perceive an interest on the part of the Europeans to advance the process.”

The association agreement is based on the pillars of political dialogue, cooperation and free trade. Negotiations began in October of last year. The fourth round of negotiations will take place on July 14-18 in Brussels, Belgium.

While he did not go into detail on the contents of the EU´s proposal, Marco Vinicio Ruiz, Costa Rica´s foreign trade minister, noted that it fails to substantially improve upon the region´s current level of access.

Currently, under Generalized System of Preferences Plus (SGP-PLUS), a unilateral trade preference scheme, 90 percent of the region´s exports to the EU enter duty-free. However, the region´s negotiators are looking to expand access for sensitive products excluded from SGP-Plus, most notably bananas and sugar.

Bruno Stagno, Costa Rica´s foreign minister, shared Ruiz´s assessment of the matter. “We don´t feel there is a strategic interest on the part of the Europeans to close the negotiations.”

Ruiz said Central America is interested in a fast negotiation that would conclude during the first semester of next year. For that reason, Central America´s proposal offered to liberalize 80 percent of European exports to the region immediately after the agreement goes into effect.

“I am very pleased because Central America has done its homework,” he said. “We have sent the EU an offer that shows that we want the agreement.”

In addition to market access, during the negotiation round Central America and the EU will discuss sanitary norms, technical barriers to trade, competition policy and services liberalization, said Roberto Echandi, the region´s head negotiator.

-EFE

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