E.U. Trade Talks Halted

April 3, 2009

The seventh round of trade negotiations between the European Union (E.U.) and Central America has been postponed until further notice after Nicaragua officially withdrew from the talks Tuesday morning.

But officials were quick to insist that Nicaragua’s abrupt withdrawl would not be fatal to the now over two-year-long negotiation process.

“We want to make clear, the suspension of one round is not the end of the negotiations,” said Costa Rican Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Stagno, on Wednesday during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry. “No one country has power to veto a (multilateral) negotiation.”

The talks, taking place in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, came to a halt on Monday, the first day of negotiations, after the Managua delegation tried to present a proposal for a regional cooperation fund before a consensus was reached between Nicaragua and the four other participating Central American countries.

Nicaragua was proposing 60 billion ($79.4 billion) for the fund, an amount not feasible for the E.U., Stagno said.

“The four (remaining) countries still want to continue the negotiations. We considered Nicaragua’s decision to be a unilateral decision,” Stagno said. “This certainly could affect our interests.”

A joint press release of the E.U. and the four Central American countries remaining in the talks – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica – said Nicaragua’s decision was considered a “temporary measure.”

Costa Rican Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz spoke on Wednesday about the possibility of Panama joining the talks if Nicaragua decides not to rejoin the negotiations in the near future.

“Nicaragua’s decision is lamentable, although we respect it,” Ruiz told reporters. “We urged Nicaragua to abandon this anti-Central American stance because it is a position that hurts the interests of Central America, not just Nicaragua.”

Although the discussion regarding the regional cooperation fund was the focus of the first days of the talks, other issues, such as sanitary and technical norms, customs proceedings and access to markets, were also explored, Roberto Echandi, chief negotiator for Costa Rica said Tuesday via video conference from Tegucigalpa.

However, as of Wednesday, the dialogue regarding key Central American products and the conditions of their access to the European market had not taken place.

“We haven’t had the chance to tackle products emblematic to Central America such as bananas, sugar, meat, rice and rum, among other products,” Echandi said.

In addition, Central American delegates presented a preliminary document on labor practices to the E.U., that Echandi said is subject to change.

The majority of exports from Central America to Europe are from agricultural products. From the other end, the E.U. exports, for the most part, manufactured products and services to Central America.

Costa Rica currently exports about $560 million to Europe and imports about $62 million. “What is Europe going to do in order to meet the needs of Central America?” Echandi asked. “That is the question of the week.”

The E.U. and remaining Central American countries will meet later this month in Brussels, Belgium, in an attempt to convince Nicaragua to come back on board, Stefano Sannino, lead negotiator for the E.U. in Honduras, told the media on Thursday.

Also Thursday, Nicaraguan Foreign Vice Minister Manuel Coronel said the country would return to negotiations only if the proposal for a regional cooperation fund is back on the table.

Tico Times reporter Patrick Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

 

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