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Trade-Pact Council Holds First Meeting

July 22, 2005

THE five men chosen to analyze thepolemical Central American Free-TradeAgreement with the United States(CAFTA) met for the first time as a groupSunday and were sworn in by PresidentAbel Pacheco as a “council of notables.”From its swearing-in, the council has60 days to submit a written report to thePresident on whether the free-trade agreementcontributes to Costa Rica’s developmentobjectives. The five members werechosen by the President because of theirsupposed distance from politics and impartialityon the subject.The members include famed CostaRican-U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang;Gabriel Macaya, former rector of theUniversity of Costa Rica; Rodrigo Gámez,president of the private NationalBiodiversity Institute (INBio); AlvarAntillón, expert in international treaties;and Guido Vallalta, a Catholic priest fromthe Archdiocese of San José.The opinion of the council will be non-binding,but President Pacheco said he willinclude its report with the trade agreementwhen he sends it to the LegislativeAssembly for ratification. Pacheco hasconsistently told the public he will not sendCAFTA to the Legislative Assembly untilthe tax-reform bill under consideration ispassed and he is sure the agreement willbenefit all Costa Ricans (TT, July 8).“THE opinion of this group will carrymuch weight for me,” Pacheco said beforethe group’s first meeting, adding that hewill make the council’s report public afterhe reads it.Chang was the first to be publiclynamed to the council and was announced asthe spokesman for the group Sunday. Chang,who lives in Houston, Texas, acknowledgedthat CAFTA is a complicated text.“I would like this document to be translatedinto a language all Costa Ricanscould understand,” Chang said.He also acknowledged that the councilfaces a formidable task in analyzing themore than 2,000-page text, saying thegroup knows its “limitations and abilities.”He explained that the group has not yetfigured out a process for coming to anopinion on the trade agreement, but thatmembers would be seeking out peoplefrom both sides of the debate to help themunderstand the document.“WE have already seen some topics ofgreat importance, topics that have beenpart of the national debate… We have toapproach the people from both sides of thedebate who are qualified to discuss thesetopics,” Chang said.When asked whether he would beworking from his home in the UnitedStates or staying in Costa Rica, Chang saidhe was not sure, but that he does not feeldistance will be an issue. He said it is onlya three-hour flight from Houston to SanJosé, and in any case, he can always behere in “virtual presence.”“Today, we carry out experiments in aspace station and we don’t have to be there.This isn’t going to be a problem for us,” hesaid.Chang also attended a scientific conferenceduring his visit to Costa Rica, as didMacaya.

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