San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

EU, Central America negotiations to resume Wednesday

Negotiations for an association agreement between the European Union (EU) and Central American countries will pick up again Wednesday, after back-to-back midnight talks ended in a stalemate last week.

EU representatives had requested time to review some of the arguments of their Central American counterparts and are expected to present their response in Guatemala on Thursday.

“I don´t want to create an expectation that this will come to an end,” said Costa Rica´s outgoing foreign trade minister, Marco Vinicio Ruiz. “But the signals are good.”

Ruiz said he would not close the negotiation until Costa Rica feels it has a fair offer, and if that can´t be accomplished in time for the May 18 summit in Madrid, the talks will go on.

“There is no hurry in this,” Ruiz told reporters after a press conference Monday. “If the conditions are good, we will finish. If not, we will continue.”

Of greatest concern to Ruiz is that Europe heavily subsidizes the production of powdered milk, and while European officials are offering Central American producers a quota of 5,000 tons, Ruiz believes that this region´s producers will not be able to compete.

“We can´t have free trade where there´s a subsidy of this magnitude,” Ruiz said. “Under current circumstances, it´s totally impossible for us to close (the deal). We hope ( Europe has) reflected on this and they are coming with an alternative that is of more interest to us.”

When the eighth round of trade talks began in Brussels, 15 to 20 items were on the table for discussion. Now, only three remain, Ruiz said, indicating that negotiators have made progress.

According to Ruiz, nearly all the Central American countries are united in the negotiation process. The only country to express reservations has been Nicaragua, of which Ruiz said, “No one can make them (move forward.)”

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