San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sugar Producers Wait for Movement on CAFTA Law

For three long months, sugar producers have been unable to sell their products in the United States due to a piece of legislation they claim has little to do with them. Rigoberto Vega, legal director of the sugary industry advocacy group Laica, estimates the industry has lost nearly $1 million in just a few months and he said that number could rise to $3.6 million if action isn’t taken soon.

“The industry has suffered losses that can’t be recuperated,” Vega said. “We are frustrated and upset, and we think it’s unjust.”

A suspension of imports of Costa Rican sugar into the U.S. was imposed in January after the Legislative Assembly delayed the passage of an amendment that was to be the final piece of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

The administration of President Oscar Arias had hoped the final law would move through the Legislative Assembly this week so that the U.S.-imposed sugar ban could be lifted in April. However, at press time Thursday, the law had not been approved.

“We are very close to completing the free trade agreement,” Rodrigo Arias, presidency minister, said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The final amendment, which relates to copyrights, took a step forward on Tuesday, when legislators approved it by a vote of 26-13 in a preliminary vote after the bill’s first debate on the floor of the assembly. But continued opposition threatened to delay the final vote, and opponents sent to the Sala IV (Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court) a query questioning the constitutionality of the amendment.

Some legislators with the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and the Libertarian Movement Party (ML) said they are concerned about the language of the law and its effect on the agrochemical industry.

In a statement, PAC legislators said the proposed amendment values the rights of transnational corporations over the interests of small- and mid-sized local businesses.

Not only would hefty fines be levied against persons who perform or interpret songs protected by law (such as karaoke establishments and mariachi bands), they said, but it would also give exclusivity rights to large agrochemical producers and drive up costs for farmers and, consequently, for consumers.

The final amendment of CAFTA needs a simple majority to pass second debate and leaders within the majority National Liberation Party had hoped to push it through this week, before the Holy Week recess.

In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy said it “welcomes the news that the 14th CAFTA bill has passed first debate in the Legislative Assembly.”

Once formal approval is complete, the statement read, the U.S. will need a month before it can restore the sugar quota, which is 11,880 metric tons under CAFTA.

–Chrissie Long

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