White House Urges Costa Ricans To Approve Free Trade Deal

Saturday, October 6th 2007, 7:01 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House said Saturday that if Costa Ricans vote against joining a U.S.-Central American free trade agreement, the Bush administration will not renegotiate the deal.

The Costa Rican government scheduled a referendum Sunday on the accord. A newspaper poll published Thursday showed that voters were poised to reject it.

The White House also suggested it may not extend trade preferences now afforded to Costa Rican products and set to expire next September.

``The United States has never before confronted the question of extending unilateral trade preferences to a country that has rejected a reciprocal trade agreement,'' White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

Costa Rica is the only one of the six Latin American signatories to the trade deal, known as CAFTA, that has yet to ratify it. The deal is in effect in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

A minimum of 40 percent of Costa Rica's 2.6 million voters must participate for Sunday's vote to be valid.

The White House urged Costa Ricans to recognize the benefits of the agreement. It would ``expand Costa Rica's access to the U.S. market, safeguard that access under international law, attract U.S. and other investment and link Costa Rica to some of the most dynamic economies of our hemisphere,'' according to the statement.

But Perino also warned about the implications of turning down the pact.

``If the free trade agreement is rejected, the United States will not renegotiate the agreement signed by the government of Costa Rica as it is part of an agreement with a broad group of Central American countries,'' she said. ``The United States has never renegotiated a free trade agreement that has been approved by the Congress.''

She said she issued the statement to ``dispel any confusion that may have been created by communications from other sources in the United States.'' She did not say who these sources were.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reference was to some Democratic members of Congress and union leaders.

``Voters in Costa Rica should be aware that many of those assuring Costa Rica of continued access to the U.S. market have consistently opposed measures that would open the U.S. market to goods from Costa Rica and other countries, whether through trade agreements or through trade preference programs,'' Perino said.

Costa Rica's Congress failed to approve the pact under former President Abel Pacheco, who had argued that lawmakers needed to pass a series of fiscal reform measures before considering it.

Current President Oscar Arias, who took office last year, is a strong supporter of the agreement.

Much of the opposition stems from requirements under the pact that Costa Rica open its telecommunications, services and agricultural sectors to greater competition.