McPherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business
Costa Rica's Minister of Foreign Trade, Anabel Gonzalez, is encouraging Jamaica to fully implement the CARICOM Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Central American nation, saying that provisions could be included to ensure there is not a pass-through of goods from elsewhere.
"We believe that the agreement opens up important opportunities for both countries to further promote two-way trade and investment," Gonzalez said.
The agreement was established in 2004 and is intended to increase trade between CARICOM and Costa Rica by granting reciprocal duty-free or preferential access to a wide range of products. Jamaica is the only nation of the more developed countries of CARICOM that has not yet fully implemented the agreement.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, responding to comments at a business conference in Kingston last June, had said he needed clarity on issues relating to origin, given that Costa Rica has moved to establish an FTA with United States.
"I am insisting that if we are going to get the benefit of a free-trade arrangement, there must be an agreement to ensure that there is not a trade pass-through from the United States to Jamaica, so we need to have proper origin rules," Hylton said then.
Gonzalez, in an interview with Wednesday Business last week following a meeting with Hylton in Kingston, said the industry minister still "had a slight concern about making sure that we avoid the transhipment of goods originating elsewhere".
The foreign minister was also in Jamaica to woo support for her bid for the job as director general of the World Trade Organization.
Gonzalez said she emphasised during the meeting with Hylton that she "would be glad to send a team of people from Costa Rica to Jamaica to further explore this issue".
"There are other FTAs that we've negotiated where we have included a number of provisions precisely to avoid transhipment. So we are going to make a proposal in that regard and we think that this may be a protocol that we can put in place once the agreement is approved," she said.
Asked how the non-implementation of the FTA impacted the potential expansion of trade between both countries, Gonzalez said that "in our experience once an FTA comes into force, the first thing that happens is that it awakens a lot of interest on the part of the business community. So normally, you begin to have missions from business people coming to each country that promote further relations and then people begin to look at the opportunities".
Furthermore, she said, "We have the fact that the agreement eliminates tariffs for products going both ways and that of course adds to the competitiveness of the products in each of the markets. So that in itself is a very important element."
She believes that Hylton "is quite interested in the agreement and he actually proposed that we explore this topic of transhipment as a way to move forward in this process. And from our side, we are very much committed to the FTA and we would want to, whatever is necessary from our side, have this agreement implemented here in Jamaica."
Costa Rica currently enjoys a substantial trade surplus with Jamaica. According to 2011 data, Jamaica imported some US$50 million worth of goods from that country compared to exports of US$700,000.
Gonzalez said that has been the tendency over the years, but she believed that the potential in the future can be different, especially with the full execution of the FTA.
Among Jamaica's imports from Costa Rica are different types of glass containers including bottles and jars, cleaning products, construction material, food products, beef and textiles, while it exports glass products, rum, boxes and other packaging products to the Central American country.
Jamaica has also sought to explore trade relations with Costa Rica in renewable energy and in the information and communication technologies sector.
From the Costa Rican perspective, Gonzalez said there is room for trade in renewable energy. More than 90 per cent of Costa Rica's electricity is generated from renewable sources, with hydropower accounting for about 70 per cent.
"I understand that this is a very important issue for Jamaica, so I think there is a lot of room for collaboration," she said.
She also cited ethnic foods, given the strong community of people of Jamaican origin living in Costa Rica, as another possibility.
Part of the discussions with Hylton also involved Jamaica's plans for building a shipping and logistics hub. "I think that this would be, of course, a very interesting element in our trade relations. Costa Rica could, of course, make use of such an important facility," Gonzalez said.