Costa Rica Needs U.S.-Sponsored Free Trade Agreement

Sunday, May 1st commemorates the International Day of the Worker; a day that millions of people around the world celebrate universal human rights.

Our country is no exception, and workers here will also celebrate. Nevertheless, everything is not honey on pancakes, because the reality in this country is that many of our compatriots have no work: 114,000 Costa Ricans, according to the June, 2004 statistics, cannot count on work to cover their basic necessities, or improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

On the other hand, there is little hope for an increase in national production that might create more and better sources of employment.

I have reiterated on many occasions that the private sector generates 86 percent of all employment in Costa Rica, and I have been preoccupied by our country’s problems with competitiveness, which prevent us from reaching levels of economic growth that would end the stagnation in our labor market.

For that reason on this very special day, as Costa Ricans we must insist to our government officials that they carry out the structural reforms that the country needs, and which will translate into a greater demand for workers.

In this sense, we must begin as quickly as possible to elaborate a national strategy of long term development to guide the country toward growth that will be independent of political swings and changes in government. It is also urgently important that we ratify the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas with the United States.

In relation to this last point, I must warn of the consequences, as I have on many previous occasions, if the legislature rejects ratification of the Free Trade Agreement.

It is worth remembering that the United States is our largest trading partner, and the largest market for our exports. Many studies by UCCAEP [Costa Rica’s Union of Private Enterprises] and PROCOMER [Promoters of Foreign Trade for Costa Rica] indicate that 140,000 jobs (direct and indirect) are highly vulnerable if the Trade Agreement is not approved.

This number is over and above the existing unemployment in the country, and is all the more alarming when thinking of it in terms of its effect on families, and when thinking about the number of women, old and young, who will be abandoned when the head of the household loses his job. If the Legislative Assembly does not ratify the Trade Agreement, many of our most vulnerable people will swell the ranks of the unemployed.

For these reasons, it is vital that Costa Rica break the vicious circle of political inaction it is currently in, because the well being of hundreds of thousands of Costa Ricans is at stake.

One need not resort to political ideology, undemocratic threats or old-fashioned shows of force to drive home the point, but to analyze the serious social consequences that a mistaken or delayed decision will have.

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