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3rd CAFTA Bill Approved

Costa Rica moved another step closer to entering a free-trade agreement with the United States.
Lawmakers this week approved the third of 11 bills required to put the country in compliance with the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), approved by referendum in October.
The controversial law, a rallying point for the treaty’s opponents, would give developers of new plant varieties the exclusive right to market them for up to 25 years. Lawmakers applied a fast-track process to the bill.
The Citizen Action Party (PAC), which opposes CAFTA, plans to challenge the bill before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), in a process that could take up to a month. For the bill to become law, the assembly must approve it a second time, and President Oscar Arias must sign it.
The bill’s final passage would block efforts by three environmental groups to hold a referendum on the proposal. The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) gave a green light last month to the environmentalists to begin collecting signatures for a referendum.
Monday’s vote is a triumph for President Oscar Arias’ administration, which has been pushing CAFTA for months. Still, several lawmakers said they doubt that all 11 CAFTA bills can be passed by a Feb. 29 deadline.

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