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Former Minister Optimistic about Trade Pact

FORMER Foreign Trade MinisterAlberto Trejos says he is optimistic about thefuture of the Central American Free-TradeAgreement (CAFTA) with the United States,and confident it will soon be approved in allseven participating countries.“I believe we’ll see a wave of relativelyquick approvals in Central America thisyear,” Trejos predicted on Tuesday, duringa luncheon organized by the Costa RicanChamber of Commerce in San José.El Salvador will approve CAFTA verysoon, followed by Nicaragua, he said. Therest of the region except Costa Rica –Guatemala, Honduras and DominicanRepublic – will approve it before the endof the year, he added.Trejos, who was Costa Rica’s ForeignTrade Minister during the CAFTA negotiatingprocess, called the situation in CostaRica less clear than in other countries. Hesaid he expects the trade pact to beapproved by the Legislative Assembly inthe “short-term,” but did not specify howmany months or years he meant.Trejos said he is confident the tradeagreement will be submitted to and approvedby the U.S. Congress “relatively soon” –regardless of whether U.S. President GeorgeW. Bush is reelected or if Democratic challengerSen. John Kerry defeats him to becomethe 44th President of the United States.THE Bush administration negotiatedCAFTA and is committed to the agreementbecause its approval would bring concreteeconomic benefits to the United States,Trejos said.He added he does not believe a victoryby Kerry would derail CAFTA. DuringKerry’s time in the U.S. Senate, he voted infavor of every free-trade agreement putbefore him, Trejos pointed out.“In an electoral process, where candidatesquestion even the color of the tie theiropponent is wearing, the opposition candidate(Kerry) has questioned only two sentencesof the agreement – the second articleof the environment chapter and the first articleof the labor chapter,” Trejos said.In May, Kerry unambiguously said hewould oppose CAFTA as currently negotiatedbecause it does not do enough toimprove the quality and enforcementCentral America’s labor rights and environmentalregulations (TT, June 3).CAFTA’S future in Costa Rica appearsto be stalled. During Tuesday’s weeklyCabinet meeting, President Abel Pachecoconditioned submitting it to the assemblyon the approval of a “complementary agenda”aimed at helping the country’s farmersand small and medium producers preparefor challenges created by the pact.In CAFTA, Costa Rica agrees to the partialopening of three sectors of ICE’s telecommonopoly – broadband Internet, cellularphone service and private data networks– and the creation of a regulatory authorityfor telecom providers by Jan. 1, 2007.Pacheco said the agenda must alsoinclude a law to modernize and strengthenthe state-owned Costa Rican ElectricityInstitute (ICE). As part of CAFTA, CostaRica agreed to pass such a law by the endof this year (TT, Jan. 30). However, thelegislative commission in charge of ICEreforms has advanced little this year.These are the latest in a series of requirementsPacheco has imposed on CAFTA’ssubmission to the Legislative Assembly. InJuly, Pacheco conditioned CAFTA on theapproval of the Permanent Fiscal ReformPackage (TT, July 16), still being discussedby legislators (TT, Sept. 24).“IT’S not the moment for me to commenton the President, the government andhow the free-trade agreement is being handled,”Trejos said at Tuesday’s luncheon.“It’s important create the space necessaryfor the forces to settle.”When asked to clarify what that meant,he repeated the same thing. Trejos did say heagreed on the importance of implementing acomplementary agenda to help the country’sproducers prepare for the challenges andopportunities created by the trade pact.TREJOS, who resigned from his postamid political upheaval last month (TT,Sept. 10), has accepted an invitation fromthe Costa Rican Investment Board(CINDE) to serve on its board of directors.Tomás Dueñas, president of CINDE, isresigning to serve as Costa Rica’s ambassadorto the United States in WashingtonD.C. starting Nov. 1 (TT, Sept. 18).CINDE is a private non-profit organizationfounded in 1982 that promotes investmentin the country. The government of CostaRica declared it of public interest in 1984.In addition to joining the CINDE,Trejos will continue his involvement inacademic activities at the Harvard-affiliatedCentral American Institute of BusinessAdministration (INCAE).


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