Ag goods in on expansion of Canada/Costa Rica trade pact

Talks now underway to “modernize” Canada’s 2002 free trade agreement with Costa Rica may lead to faster elimination of tariffs for agricultural goods, the federal government says.

The two countries on Thursday announced the formal launch of talks to expand their trade agreement, as well as the signing of an air transportation agreement and a tax information exchange pact.

The free trade talks also aim to “increase market access and broaden the agreement to cover other areas, such as cross-border trade in services, including financial services,” the government said in a release.

Through this “modernization” process, the government said, “new opportunities could be created in Costa Rica for Canadian businesses in construction, manufacturing and agriculture.”

“Omission”

Canadian beef, for example, was excluded from the 2002 trade pact, and Costa Rica later banned imports of Canadian beef following confirmation of Canada’s first domestic case of BSE in 2003.

Costa Rica fully reopened its ports to Canada’s beef in February this year, but its 15 per cent tariff on imports of Canadian beef “has remained fully in effect” since the 2002 trade deal, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association noted Thursday.

“The potential to export Canadian beef to Costa Rica may be small… but it is unacceptable to have beef remain excluded entirely from any agreement,” CCA foreign trade chair and MacGregor, Man. producer Martin Unrau said in a separate release. “We want this omission to be corrected.”

The value of Canada’s pre-BSE beef exports to Costa Rica in 2002 totalled $235,000.

Grain Growers of Canada president Stephen Vandervalk of Fort Macleod, Alta. also hailed Canada’s bilateral moves to boost trade with Costa Rica and expand other trade opportunities in Central and South America.

“One thing we have learned the hard way over the years as farmers is that we can’t become too reliant on any one market,” he said in a separate release Thursday. “Within Latin America, Colombia and Brazil are very sizeable markets and there may be valuable niches within Costa Rica and Honduras as well.”

“Bilateral trade agreements like these either give us a head start on accessing local markets or at least keep us on par with our competitors,” he said. “Whether it is wheat, malt barley, pulses, beef or pork, if it is good for our sector it is good for our farmers.”

“Committed”

Costa Rica is Canada’s largest trading partner in Central America, accounting for 31 per cent of Canada’s two-way trade with the region in 2010.

“Unlike Canada’s current approach to free trade agreements, the existing Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement… does not include substantive provisions in areas such as services, investment and government procurement,” the government noted.

Officials are expected to meet in the coming weeks to begin the negotiation process, the government said, and both countries are “committed to updating their existing free trade agreement as soon as possible.”

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