WITH officials in the six countries that have already ratified the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) scrambling to determine when the pact will take effect among those nations, a group of U.S. congressmen paid a visit to the lone holdout Costa Rica, where discussion of the agreement began only recently in the Legislative Assembly s Foreign Affairs Committee.
At the press conference following a meeting between members of the committee and their visitors at the assembly building in San José Monday afternoon, Congressmen Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, and Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, reiterated familiar arguments in favor of CAFTA. They emphasized that the pact has the potential to benefit both Costa Rica and the United States, but avoided points of controversy.
When asked about the possibility that the agreement would damage Costa Rican sovereignty, Blunt said, The appropriate debate on those issues (should take place) in your country, adding that part of the debate on CAFTA in the House of Representatives included discussion of whether the United States was conceding too much to other signatory countries. However, the narrow majority believed it was in the interests of both countries, he said.
IN April, Congressman Meeks was part of the largest U.S. congressional delegation ever to visit Costa Rica eight representatives in total. Then, he told The Tico Times he was undecided about the agreement and wanted to learn more before making a decision (TT, April 29); he went on to vote in favor of CAFTA, which was approved in the United States by the narrowest of margins.
Asked on Monday what made up his mind, he said, Costa Rica had a lot to do with it, quite honestly. He added that he was impressed with the quality of the educated workforce here and became convinced CAFTA would help both countries become more interdependent.
There s always a short-term pain, but a long-term gain, he said of the pact.
Texas Democrat Rubén Hinojosa addressed the assembled journalists in Spanish, saying one concern of people in his home state was that there hadn t been enough communication regarding CAFTA.
He touted the benefits Texas received as a result of 1994 s North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and urged Costa Rican leaders to communicate with the people they represent.
AS the congressmen spoke with the press, the U.S. Trade Representative s Office was releasing a statement confirming that while the United States hopes to implement CAFTA, which was signed in 2004, as soon as possible with the countries that have ratified it Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic it is not yet certain whether any of those countries will have the required complementary legislation ready by Jan. 1 as scheduled.
The U.S. is prepared to implement the free trade agreement among the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic as soon as possible with those countries that the United States has determined to have taken sufficient steps to complete their commitments, the statement said. An announcement of whether any of the CAFTAsignatories will be ready by Jan. 1 will be made before the end of the year. After Jan. 1, the United States will put the agreement into force with the other countries on a rolling basis.
The statement also indicated that the United States will move ahead with implementing the agreement as long as at least one signatory has made sufficient progress in adopting new laws and regulations by Jan. 1.
The U.S. congressional delegation was scheduled to visit El Salvador and Nicaragua to discuss CAFTA s implementation in those countries, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elaine Samson told The Tico Times. She added that questions from Costa Rican assembly members during the meeting with U.S. representatives centered on the possibility of renegotiating the agreement which U.S. leaders have maintained is highly unlikely and the Caribbean Basin Initiative trade benefits, which are scheduled to end as CAFTA takes effect.
Meeks said leaders from Caribbean nations have approached him asking if they could be part of the CAFTA agreement.
Those leaders recognize that the best place to be is in CAFTA it s the cutting edge of a trade relationship with the United States, he said.