Costa Ricans Go to the Polls Over DR-CAFTA

Costa Rica is holding a national referendum Oct. 7 to vote on whether to join the Dominican Republic–Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The other six signatory countries—Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and the United States—are already on board.

Costa Rica’s entry into the free-trade agreement got sidelined last year by its presidential elections. The winner, Oacute;scar Arias, has been a staunch supporter of the regional trade deal and has been pushing heavily for it. His primary presidential opponent, Ottoacute;n Solis, was critical of DRCAFTA, feeling it should be rewritten to protect vulnerable farmers and local industries.

After last year’s presidential elections, the Costa Rican Legislature took up the issue but decided to let the people vote on the matter. Costa Rica faces a February 2008 deadline to ratify the accord and implement 13 laws in order for the agreement to take effect.

Since joining DR-CAFTA, apparel and textile imports from Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have grown while those from Guatemala and the Dominican Republic have shrunk.

During the first seven months of this year, textile and apparel imports from Nicaragua climbed to $547.5 million, a 20 percent rise compared with last year. El Salvador’s imports reached $842.6 million, up 8.4 percent, and Honduras’ exports were $1.42 billion, inching up 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic saw its textile exports to the United States tumble during the first seven months to $655.94 million, a 26 percent slide. Guatemala saw its textile exports dip to $870 million, an 11.5 percent decline. —Deborah Belgum