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US Congressional Delegation Promotes CAFTA In Costa Rica

by Leroy Baker,, New York

19 December 2005

A high-level delegation of United States Congressmen is visiting Costa Rica this week in an attempt to persuade the government of President Abel Pacheco to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and to warn that the country risks being marginalized as a regional trading partner if it remains outside of the agreement.

Signed into law by US President, George W. Bush in April, the CAFTA is designed to reduce trade barriers between the United States and the Central American signatories, which comprise Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

CAFTA would immediately eliminate duties on more than half the value of US farm exports to the region, expand IP protections and open telecommunications and other markets.

Costa Rica's government wants to move towards freer trade with the country's partners, but legislators and the unions are not so sure. After some delay, President Abel Pacheco submitted the CAFTA to the Legislative Assembly in late October, in the face of threatened strikes. The legislative process is expected to take several months, but the outcome is seen as likely to be positive.

The business community had been demanding that Pacheco send the agreement to the assembly, saying that by waiting, Costa Rica could lose business opportunities, foreign investment and jobs. After the approval of CAFTA last month by Nicaragua, Costa Rica remains the only signatory country that has not ratified the agreement.

According to AM Costa Rica, the delegation of US lawmakers from across the party divide will repeat the message of a similar delegation which visited earlier in the year that CAFTA is much more important to Costa Rica than it is to the United States. Senior figures in the delegation include: Roy D. Blunt, a Missouri Republican and acting majority leader of the US House, Mark A. Foley, a Florida Republican and deputy majority whip and K. Michael Conaway, a long-time friend of US President George Bush and the former chief financial officer for Bush Exploration.

Also part of the delegation according to the paper are: Rubén Hinojosa and Solomón Ortiz, both Spanish-speaking Texas Republicans; Gregory W. Meeks, a New York Democrat; Dennis Moore, a Democrat from Kansas; and Lynn A. Westmoreland, a first-term congressman and a Republican from Georgia.

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