Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Costa Rica Confirms trade pact approval

A worker places packages of ballots at the Supreme Court of Elections building that was being used to count Sunday's votes on a referendum to decide whether to approve the country's participation in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the U.S, in San Jose, October 9, 2007. The Bush administration on Monday welcomed Costa Rica's narrow approval of a free trade agreement with the United States, after a national debate that split the tiny Central American democracy. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate (COSTA RICA)Legislators must still enact laws needed to implement the accord

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Costa Rica's top electoral court confirmed the results of an Oct. 7 referendum on a free trade agreement with the United States, saying a recount showed the "yes" votes only slightly lower than preliminary results had indicated.

The recount showed that 51.2 percent of the 1.57 million voters approved of the pact, while 42.2 percent voted "no." Preliminary returns had suggested an approval rate of 51.5 percent.

The other ballots were either unmarked or annulled. The court said 59.2 percent of eligible voters participated, well above the minimum 40 percent turnout required to make the vote valid.

The controversial free trade pact includes Costa Rica's Central American neighbors - all of whom have already approved the agreement - the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

There had been a yearlong battle over the agreement in Costa Rica, the last of the six Latin American nations to approve the accord, which has already taken effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias called the trade deal crucial to industry in the Central American nation of 4.5 million people.

Legislators must still enact laws needed to implement the accord, the most controversial of which are bills to open state telecommunications and insurance monopolies to competition.

Critics also object to requirements that Costa Rica open its agricultural and service sectors to competitors, fearing a flood of cheap U.S. farm imports.

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