Tuesday, October 30, 2007

China and Costa Rica seek free trade agreement

Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias, left, meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, at the Zhongnanhai in Beijing, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007. (AP Photo/Takanori Sekine, Pool) (China Daily) - China and Costa Rica said they will conduct a feasibility study on a free trade agreement - four months after the two established formal diplomatic ties.

The move was announced by top officials from the two countries on Monday during Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' ongoing visit to China.

"Costa Rica could be an ideal place for outward Chinese investment, as well as a good base for Chinese businesses to penetrate the vast markets in Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe," Vice-Minister of Commerce Ma Xiuhong told a forum on China-Costa Rica economic and trade cooperation yesterday.

She said Costa Rica has a solid political environment, robust economic growth and an educated workforce.

"For Chinese businesses, Costa Rica is a very attractive market, not only because of the education level of its workers, but also for the potential to export to the United States tax-free," Arias said.

Arias' trip to China follows his country's vote to join the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the US. The country is also in free trade talks with the European Union.

China is Costa Rica's second biggest trading partner after the US. Two-way trade between China and Costa Rica hit $2.16 billion last year. China accounted for $409 million in exports and $1.75 billion in imports. China mainly exports electronic products, integrated circuit parts, computers and communication products while it imports electronic and hi-tech products and machinery from Costa Rica.

Trade ties were strengthened after the two nations set up formal diplomatic relations.

Ma expects bilateral trade to hit $3 billion this year, with China importing $2.5 billion worth of goods from the Central American country.

"The establishment of formal diplomatic ties has spurred more Chinese firms to tap the Costa Rican market," she said.

China will also establish a joint commission with Costa Rica for economic cooperation, investment protection and inspection and quarantine on China's imports of bananas from the nation.

Meanwhile, the Costa Rican Export Products Exhibition was held in Beijing yesterday, with 28 Costa Rican exporters showcasing products and services in sectors including tourism, residential and hotel projects, agriculture, flowers, coffee, food and hi-tech products.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Endangered Costa Rican frog focus of study

MANCHESTER, England, Oct. 29 (UPI) - British biologists are studying a Costa Rican leaf frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer, to save it from extinction and learn how to care for it in zoos and aquariums.

Scientists from The University of Manchester and the Chester Zoo - Britain's largest zoo - said the brightly colored frog, a native of the Costa Rican rainforest, is being threatened by a combination of environmental change and disease.

"This research aims to contribute to our understanding of the basic factors that influence the development and survival of these frogs," said Richard Preziosi, the project's lead investigator.

"For instance, with the exception of certain mammals, we know surprisingly little about what animals should be eating. And yet the diet of splendid leaf frogs affects their coloration which, in turn, determines their mating behavior.

"The global decline in amphibian populations means research such as this, carried out ex situ, is therefore critical for both conservation projects in the wild and for maintaining and successfully breeding the frogs in zoos and aquariums," he added.

The research is being complemented by field studies in Costa Rica that include examining the effect that ultraviolet rays have on the fitness and viability of captive-bred frogs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bilateral trade between China, Costa Rica to hit $3 billion this year

Costa Rica's president Oscar Arias inspects the guard of honor outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007. Oscar Arias was in the Chinese capital on Wednesday for talks with the country's leaders on his first visit since switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) China's Vice Commerce Minister Ma Xiuhong said on Thursday that trade between China and Costa Rica would hit a record $3 billion this year on the back of strong demand from the China, up from 2.16 billion U.S. dollars reported last year.

China is expected to import $2.5 billion of goods from Costa Rica by the end of this year, Ma estimated at the China-Costa Rica economic and trade forum in Beijing.

China is the second largest trade partner of Costa Rica, while the latter was the eighth largest to China in Latin America.

Bilateral trade between the two countries was recorded at $1.04 billion in the first five months, up 69.5 percent over the same period last year, with Chinese exports to Costa Rica at $164 million and imports from Costa Rica at $877 million.

China's imports from Costa Rica range from electronic products and integrated circuits to micro-electronic components, diodes and other mechanical and electrical products.

Costa Rica mainly imports from China shipping containers, computers, telecommunications products and also electronic products and integrated circuits.

Ma said at the forum that the two countries enjoyed good groundwork for economic cooperation, and the forging of the bilateral diplomatic relations in June would further promote trade between the two sides.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, currently visiting China, extended hopes for businesses in both countries to enhance exchanges and cooperation while addressing the forum.

A Costa Rica-China Expo was held in Beijing from Oct. 24 to 26,and 28 trading companies from Costa Rica attended the expo.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Atenas body count totals 14

(Inside Costa Rica) - In total 14 bodies were recovered by search and rescue workers in the mud avalanche in El Bajo del Cacao, en San Isidro de Atenas.

The operations director for the Costa Rican Red Cross, Guillermo Arroyo, explained that the grueling task was completed in the face of the constant rain and mud slides that made their work near to impossible.

Arroyo said he feels for the families of the victims who were buried alive by mud in the early Thursday morning avalanche that destroyed 7 homes in its path.

The mudslide engulfed a complex housing the families of poor farm workers. It was the worst weather disaster in the Central American country for years.

Arroyo added that the search and rescue efforts ended with reports that all the missing persons had been found, though the Red Cross will continue to offer help to those families in need.

The emergency commission committee listed the names and ages of the dead: Debora Ovares, 10; Maria Agüero Corella, 36; Arquimedes Aviles Morales, 40; Luis Andrey Aviles Beita, 21; Maria Cecilia Barrios Viquez, 39; Epifanio Solorzano Villalobos, 55; Adelina Luz Sibaja Perez, 78; Sara Ovares Agüero, 22; Jefrey Agüero Artavia, 22; Darwin Palacios, 35; Francisco Zelaya Rivera, 32; Harlem Osorio Quintero, 20; and Agustín Reyes Calero, 25.

Parrita on the western Pacific coast was also flooded when rain-swollen rivers burst their banks.

Other news: Deadly landslide devastates Atenas

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

PAC pledges not to block CAFTA's implementation in Congress

By Esteban Oviedo and Irene Vizcaino

San Jose (La Nacion) - The Citizens Action Party (PAC), the main opposition group in Congress, pledged today in a meeting with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias not to block the parallel laws that need to be approved prior to the implementation of CAFTA.

The 13 parallel laws, also knows as the "Implementation Agenda," are necessary for CAFTA to take effect in the country and must be approved by March 1, 2008, otherwise the country would be left out of the agreement, even though a majority of Costa Ricans (51.6 percent) gave their approval to CAFTA on the first-ever referendum held in Costa Rica.

President Arias and his brother Rodrigo Arias (Presidency Minister), met today in the Presidential House in Zapote with Elizabeth Fonseca and Rafael Madrigal (PAC representatives in Congress).

After the meeting, which took place between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Rodrigo Arias announced PAC's intention of allowing the passage of the parallel laws, which include the opening of the telecommunications industry (right now a government monopoly).

During the meeting, Fonseca said: "They (some groups that support CAFTA and some of the press) have tried to make us look like a group of obstructionists, but I want to make it clear, that's not our nature."

"The people have already made their choice, whether right or wrong, but we still believe that CAFTA is harmful to our country," Fonseca said. "Therefore, our proposal is to take a look at the Implementation Agenda and we will try to improve it, but not to block it, thats is something else, we will try to have it ready on time."

The Government has pledged to send PAC a chronogram of the pending legislative work, while the PAC will send the Government a proposal of modifications to the Implementation Agenda so that the projects to be approved can have just the "minimum requirements that CAFTA demands."

Rodrigo Arias said that "it's all positive," as he announced that the Government and the PAC also managed to reach agreements on several other projects of common interest such as the modifications to the laws of transit and immigration.

The two groups also agreed to work together to request a loan to the Interamerican Development Bank with the goal of improving the country's competitiveness, and the creation of a tax to luxury homes.

Translated by Uri Ridelman

Thursday, October 04, 2007

U.S. warns Costa Rica against rejecting CAFTA

By Doug Palmer
REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Costa Rica could lose valuable access to the U.S. market if the country rejects a free-trade agreement with the United States when voters go to the polls on Sunday, a top U.S. official said.

The United States respects Costa Rica's sovereign right to decide whether to join the pact, "but, I hope whatever decision is made is based on the facts," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement on Thursday.

"It is difficult to imagine any U.S. administration renegotiating the current agreement or negotiating a new trade agreement with Costa Rica if this agreement is rejected. The opportunity for Costa Rica to enjoy the benefits of regional free trade is now," Schwab said.

The warning came as Costa Rica prepared to vote Sunday on whether to join the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which the U.S. Congress narrowly approved in 2005. Some Costa Rican opponents of the pact have argued it could be renegotiated and improved if voters reject it.

About 100,000 Costa Ricans turned out last Sunday to protest the pact, a huge number in a country of 4 million.

The deal locks in Costa Rica's current duty-free access to the U.S. market under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and phases out many trade barriers facing U.S. manufacturers, farmers and service industry companies in Costa Rica.

The referendum has split the nation, with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and some businesses saying CAFTA will bring investment and jobs. Opponents says it will mean a flood of cheap farm imports and limit the country's sovereignty by taking investment disputes to international arbitration.

"The opposition has always said that nothing will happen to this country without the trade pact. This statement (by the United States) comes at the right time so that Costa Ricans know all the cards are on the table," said government official and brother of the president, Rodrigo Arias.

SOME BENEFITS TO EXPIRE

Other CAFTA countries -- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic -- have already ratified the agreement. Only Costa Rica has let its voters decide.

Schwab also took issue with a recent letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that said Costa Rica would not lose current U.S. trade benefits if the pact is rejected.

"Participation in the CBI is not conditioned on a country's decision to approve or reject a free trade agreement with the United States, and we do not support such a linkage," the Democratic leaders said in a letter to Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States.

Although many trade benefits under CBI are permanent, certain others benefiting Costa Rica's textile and tuna industries expire next year.

"The fact is, the United States has never faced a situation where one of our trading partners rejects a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, but continues to seek unilateral trade preferences," Schwab said.

(Additional reporting by John McPhaul in Costa Rica)

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