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Costa Rica Inks China Trade Deal

Thursday, 11 February 2010 10:30 AM

SAN JOSE — China and Costa Rica said Wednesday they had reached the framework of a free trade agreement, sealed within months after the Central American nation snapped longstanding ties with rival Taiwan.

The deal paves the way to lift almost all tariffs on Costa Rican meat, fruit, juice and other produce to China, which is already the second biggest commercial partner with the country after the United States.

"We have completed a free trade agreement with the world's third largest economy, without doubt a milestone in Costa Rica's trade policy," Marco Vinicio Ruiz, the minister of foreign trade, said after three days of talks.

He said the agreement, negotiated over 14 months, would open "enormous opportunities" to boost exports to the billion-plus nation along with investment from the fast-growing Asian economy.

"We have strengthened our involvement in the Asian continent," Ruiz said. "There is no doubt that the United States and Europe are fundamental for our economy, but obviously it is also fundamental to have a presence in Asia."

Costa Rica also recently concluded negotiations on a free trade agreement with Singapore.

In brief remarks, Yi Xiaozhum, China's vice minister of commerce, hailed the conclusion of negotiations and voiced hope that the agreement will be formally signed soon "for the benefit of both our peoples."

Officials said the two countries hoped to sign the accord before Costa Rican President Oscar Arias leaves office on May 8. Latin America's oldest democracy on Sunday elected Arias ally Laura Chinchilla as his successor.

Central America is a key diplomatic support base for Taiwan, which has sealed similar free trade agreements with most of Costa Rica's neighbors.

China considers Taiwan, where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949, to be a province awaiting reunification and strongly opposes any foreign recognition of its government.

China launched free trade talks in earnest with Costa Rica in 2007 after it became the first nation in Central America to recognize Beijing, ending its decades-old relationship with Taiwan.

The free trade deal gives priority to Costa Rican exports to China.

Some 99.6 percent of Costa Rican goods would have immediate, duty-free access to the Chinese market, while 58 percent of Chinese goods would get the same treatment, said Fernando Ocampo, Costa Rica's chief trade negotiator.

Costa Rican agricultural products stand to benefit most, with more of the nation's fruit juice, decorative plants, leather, pork, beef and coffee likely to wind up on Chinese shelves.

"The only product that's not covered under the treaty is sugar. We tried, but couldn't get China to agree," Ocampo said.

Nonetheless, he said: "In terms of market access, the balance is very favorable."

Costa Rica would also open its doors to more Chinese products including electronic parts and agricultural produce.

China would set up a reserve of 10,000 metric tons of beans, which would flow duty-free into the Costa Rican market at times of the year when local production does not meet domestic demand.

The deal moved ahead despite concerns in parts of the world about the quality of Chinese goods. In 2008, Chinese milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine led to the deaths of six babies and sickened 300,000 others.

China, along with other major Asian economies such as Japan and South Korea, has been seeking free trade deals amid a long deadlock in the Doha round of global trade liberalization talks.

A free trade agreement took effect on January 1 between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In Latin America, China has trade pacts with resource-rich Chile and Peru.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, 11 February 2010 10:30 AM
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