Chile Agrees to Discuss Benefits of Free Trade
_Costa Rica should be more like Chile when it comes to free trade. That is the message President Oscar Arias sent to Costa Ricans on the heels of a meeting with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during his trip to Colombia. Bachelet has agreed to send a delegation of farmers, legislators and business executives headed by Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley to Costa Rica to discuss how Chile has benefited from free trade, according to statements from Casa Presidencial in San José. Arias also invited Bachelet to visit Costa Rica in November. Costa Rica’s President – who’s encouraging the Legislative Assembly to approve the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) – is touting Chile, Latin America’s biggest per-capita exporter, as an example of how good things come to those who promote free trade. The South American country boasts the highest poverty-reduction rates in Latin America and is involved in a wide array of free-trade agreements.
_The National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) announced plans this week to organize massive street protests against a proposal to break up the country’s insurance monopoly. The proposal arrived to the Legislative Assembly’s Economics Commission last week and would strip the National Insurance Institute (INS) of its monopoly, a measure required under the CAFTA. ANEP Secretary General Albino Vargas told The Tico Times organization efforts are under way and a protest date will be announced in September.
_CAFTA would also require Costa Rica to open the telecommunications sector, which is now controlled by the state Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE). The Casa Presidencial said the bill will likely arrive into the Legislative Assembly next week. In 2000, nationwide protests against similar legislation that would have privatized state-owned utilities brought the country to a point of near paralysis, causing the administration to withdraw the bill.
_The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) has yet to make a ruling on Citizen Action Party (PAC) legislator Alberto Salom’s allegations that CAFTA legislation has not been given its due publicity in the government daily La Gaceta. Instead of its normal run of 4,000 copies, La Gaceta ran only 1,500 copies containing the CAFTA bill because of the cost of publishing the 2,000-page document. A staunch CAFTA opponent, Salom has said a ruling in his favor could force the Foreign Affairs Commission to repeat all audiences it has held on the pact. That would send the legislation back to square one after the assembly has labored for eight months debating the pros and cons of the controversial agreement.
_If CAFTA is implemented, Costa Rica will have to depend completely on imports for basic goods like rice, according to allegations from the National Rice Growers Association (CONARROZ). After legislators stood up CONARROZ members last month for a meeting to discuss CAFTA, members of the Foreign Affairs Commission finally met with rice farmers, who traveled from all corners of the country to meet legislators in San José. Rice growers presented a 25-page document opposing CAFTA. CONARROZ leader Oscar Campos told The Tico Times that if CAFTA is implemented, “the rice industry will die,” along with other food industries in Costa Rica.