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Cargo-Transport Fee Sparks Feud with Panama

February 24, 2006

The conflict over a new electronic vehicle-circulation permit fee that resulted in a Panamanian truckers’ protest at the Costa Rica-Panama border heated up this week as Costa Rican and Nicaraguan truckers’ associations joined their Panamanian counterparts in requesting the controversial permit be eliminated.

Costa Rican Customs officials began collecting fees for the permits Feb. 15 at the border station at Paso Canoas as part of its new electronic Customs system, known as TICA, designed to improve Customs’ efficiency and track goods. The permit allows officials to trace vehicles’ path through the country via satellite to ensure they do not leave their planned route.

Truck drivers formed a blockade at Paso Canoas to protest the permit fees, totaling $70 for a permit good as far as San José, and $140 to go from Paso Canoas and Peñas Blancas, on the border with Nicaragua.

Panama maintains the fee violates regional trade agreements. Government officials from Costa Rica and Panama met Monday in San José and Tico authorities agreed to suspend the measure for cargo vehicles entering from Panama until April 3, with the condition that blockades at Paso Canoas be lifted.

During the suspension period, the two governments will continue negotiations to reach a final agreement, according to Costa Rican Vice-Minister of Finance José Adrián Vargas.

Despite this concession, truck drivers were still protesting at press time, and Nicaraguan drivers had threatened to form a similar blockade at Peñas Blancas.

Panama’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade, Carmen Gisela Vergara, told Panamanian radio station RPC the fee is illegal and violates international agreements.

The electronic circulation permits required in the new Costa Rican Customs system also resulted in protests when TICA was implemented at the Pacific port of Caldera July 4; shipping companies and importers temporarily paralyzed the port by refusing to use it (TT, Sept. 23, 2005). The Finance Ministry called it a one-time glitch and maintains TICA has significantly improved the collection of Customs taxes.

 

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