As of June 15, Costa Rica can export 13,880 metric tons of sugar to the U.S. tariff-free, as stipulated under CAFTA-DR. But Washington had suspended Costa Rica’s preferential sugar treatment in January of this year. A move that the country’s sugar cane chamber said cost the sector an estimated $1 million in potential sales.
Costa Rica joined the CAFTA-DR trade club in 2009, but only after supporters won a first-ever public referendum two years earlier. However, it hadn’t finished pushing through all the legislative reforms required to play ball and be a full partner.
Even after the U.S. had granted two deadline extensions, one bill remained unapproved: a tougher intellectual property rights law. The U.S. imposed a block on the sweet sugar deal until Costa Rica approved the last bill.
Legislators here finally passed it in April of this year—but not without a fight. Many loathed the intellectual property rights reform. It posed uncomfortable changes in areas ranging from agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals to textbook photocopying and music.
For starters, the bill’s authors had neglected to consult the indigenous population, which they must do by law. Lawmakers also had to revise the original bill when the Supreme Court ruled that it grazed legal boundaries.
Apparently, Costa Rica isn’t the only country to feel U.S. pressure over failing to enforce tighter intellectual property rules. University of Ottawa law professor and blogger Michael Geist noted that Canada and the Bahamas have had to face similar pressure.
But as of this week, more Americans will be using free-trade Costa Rican-made sugar to sweeten their morning Costa Rican roasted coffee. As for exports on the whole, it could take some more economic recovering to tell how sweet it is to be in CAFTA-DR.
*Alex Leff is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is the online editor for The Tico Times, Central America’s leading English-language newspaper.