President Oscar Arias is traveling to Europe next week to lobby for Costa Rica’s interests in a free-trade agreement between Central America and the European Union.
Arias also plans to seek greater development aid for Costa Rica and drum up support for initiatives that Costa Rica will push as president of the United Nations Security Council in November.
On his 12-day visit to Brussels, England and Spain, Arias will meet with European Union and European Parliament officials, as well as Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and King Juan Carlos.
A key fight for Arias revolves around tariffs on banana exports. During a World Trade Organization meeting earlier this month, the European Union backtracked on an agreement to reduce tariffs on Central American bananas from 176 euros ($259) per ton in 2009 to 114 euros ($168) per ton in 2016.
“Obviously, we are very interested in returning to this agreement,” said Mishelle Mitchell, who heads Arias’ press office.
To that end, Arias will meet with Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and Peter Mandelson, the EU trade representative in Brussels.
Rules on bananas would form part of an accord between the European Union and Central America on trade, political cooperation, and development aid. A fifth round of negotiations will take place in Guatemala in October.
During his trip to Europe, Arias will also seek support for Costa Rica’s initiatives in the United Nations. These include the Costa Rican consensus, Arias’ idea that donor countries and institutions should reward nations that decrease arms spending and increase social spending.
The president will also lobby for the Arms Trade Treaty, which would essentially prohibit governments from selling weapons to known human rights violators (TT, March 17, 2006).
Much of Arias’ agenda in Spain revolves around cultural activities. In Cádiz, he will attend a showing by the Costa Rican ceramicist Tamara Avalos and visit a monument dedicated to the Cortes, the national legislature in the 19th century.
Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno and Foreign Trade (COMEX) Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz will accompany Arias during the Sept. 1-2 trip, and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias will join them midway, Mitchell said.
The trip is one of Arias’ longest abroad, rivaled only by a two-week trip to Europe in June 2006 to promote Costa Rican trade and investment and a nine-day trip to China in October 2007 to celebrate newly established diplomatic relations.
Last year, Arias rarely left the country because he was focusing on his campaign for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), approved by referendum in October.