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Free-Trade Agreement to be Signed Today

May 28, 2004

THE trade ministers of Costa Rica, ElSalvador, Guatemala, Honduras andNicaragua and U.S. Trade RepresentativeRobert Zoellick are scheduled to sign theCentral American Free-Trade Agreement(CAFTA) with the United States today.The signing act is scheduled to takeplace at the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS) building in Washington D.C.It is the culmination of more than a year ofnegotiations and several months of legalrevision of the agreement’s texts (TT, Dec.19, 2003; Jan. 30).“It’s a moment of great satisfaction,”said Costa Rican Foreign Trade MinisterAlberto Trejos. “It was a hard negotiation,during which the country obtained the balanceand objectives it had proposed at thebeginning of the process.”A representative of the DominicanRepublic, which aims to become the seventhmember of the CAFTA bloc, will bepresent at the signing ceremony as a specialguest.Dominican Republic recently finishedbilateral trade negotiations with the UnitedStates. The next phase for the treaty will befor the five Central American countriesand the Dominican Republic to agree onthe terms of their trade relationship underCAFTA.CAFTA will apply between the UnitedStates and Central America as well asbetween the Central American countries,Trejos explained.He said Central America is very interestedin extending CAFTA’s multilateraltrade preferences to the DominicanRepublic in a way that expands theCentral America-Dominican RepublicFree-Trade Agreement, which Costa Ricasigned in 2002. Once negotiations withthe Dominican Republic are complete,the treaty will be sent to the legislativebodies of each country for approval.“With the signing by the ExecutiveBranch, we are confirming that we haveagreed on the definitive text that we willsend to our congress when the momentcomes,” Trejos explained.THE Costa Rican Foreign TradeMinistry (COMEX) plans to send CAFTAto the Legislative Assembly between theend of June and early July.The treaty will first be studied by thePermanent Foreign Relations Commission,which has no limit on the amount of time itcan spend reviewing it, he said.Once the commission issues its finalreport, CAFTA will be sent to the floor ofthe Assembly to be voted on twice (as allthe country’s laws are). In between the twovotes, the Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) will review thetreaty’s constitutionality.It is still unclear whether CAFTA’sapproval requires a simple majority (29 of57 votes) or a qualified majority (38 of 57votes).TREJOS dismissed claims by anti-CAFTA groups that a win by U.S.Democratic presidential candidate SenatorJohn Kerry in November’s election wouldmean the end of CAFTA.“Senator Kerry’s trajectory in theSenate makes me think differently,”Trejos said. “Senator Kerry is a memberof the New Democrats wing of theDemocratic Party. This wing, and Kerryin particular, have voted in favor of tradeand have supported various free-tradeagreements.”Kerry has conditioned his support forCAFTA and other trade agreements on theinclusion and enforcement of labor lawsand environmental standards (TT, Feb. 20).Trejos said he believes Kerry will findno problem with the way those issues arehandled in CAFTA.HEAD Costa Rican CAFTA negotiatorAnabel González said Costa Ricanwould continue to lobby in Washington infavor of CAFTA during the comingmonths.“We’ve had a program of regular visitsto Congress and to academic organizationsin the United States,” González explainedduring a press conference this week. “Wewill continue moving forward with thisprogram after the signing.”During the upcoming legislativerecess, Costa Rica will lobby organizationsthat represent productive sectors. Efforts toconvince legislators will resume onceCongress returns, she said.COMEX is analyzing the possibility ofhiring a private lobbying firm to convincelegislators and productive sectors toapprove CAFTA, she said.“When we consider that they becomenecessary, we will proceed to hire a firm,”she said.MEANWHILE, unions from a numberof sectors this week called on theirmembers and other CAFTA opponents totake to the streets Monday for a nationwidework stoppage and march throughthe capital to protest the trade agreement.Earlier this month, thousands marchedthrough the streets of San José and citiesthroughout Central America to expressopposition to the trade agreement with theUnited States (TT, May 7).

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