San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican legislators approve final piece of CAFTA

The last link in the free trade agreement with the United States passed through the Legislative Assembly Thursday evening as congressmen gave it the long-awaited nod.

More than a year overdue, the hanging legislation had put a freeze on Costa Rican sugar exports to the United States.

Rigoberto Vega, legal director of the sugar industry advocacy group LAICA, estimates as much as $1 million has been lost in potential revenue. The United States expects to lift the sugar ban – allowing 11,880 metric tons to flow into the country – within a month of last night´s approval.

Costa Rica officially entered the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) in January 2009 after pushing through sweeping policy reforms in industries such as insurance and telecommunications.

But even until now, lawmakers remained at odds over a piece of legislation that governs copyright, known as amendment 14. According to trade officials, the agreement would only enforce Costa Rica´s existing laws and would not introduce further protections on patented products. However, left-leaning legislators argued the law would force many businesses to close, as it would forbid mass copying of textbooks and unauthorized use of songs.

“If you think it´s a crime to sing mariachi or play music in a restaurant, vote for this bill,” congressman Sergio Alfaro said, according to the daily La Nación.

Others said the new law went too far and patented common agriculture products, which could push smaller producers out of business.

Lawmakers with the left-of-center Citizen Action Party stalled the bill by sending it to a high court for review. Judges refuted their concerns and returned the bill to the legislature Monday, just in time for its approval before the membership of the Legislative Assembly turned over Saturday.

The final vote was 28 in favor and 15 opposed.

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