NU Online News Service, Jan. 26, 2004, 4:31 p.m. EST – The United States has persuaded Costa Rica to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement.[@@]

The Bush administration completed negotiations on the agreement with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in December 2003. Costa Rica held back.

Since then, the United States and Costa Rica have worked out agreements in areas such as agriculture, textiles, telecommunications and professional services, according to the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.

Costa Rica “also committed to fully open its insurance market to competition, with the vast majority of the market opening by Jan. 1, 2008, and full opening of the sector by Jan. 1, 2011,” officials report.

The American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, put out a statement welcoming Costa Rica’s participation in CAFTA.

“ACLI’s objectives are to achieve market access, national treatment and regulatory transparency in each market by a date certain and within a reasonable time frame,” the ACLI says in the statement. “The CAFTA package proposed by the administration reaches these goals and includes new regulatory and administrative commitments for the 4 Central American nations that are not currently contained in their [World Trade Organization] commitments.”

U.S. trade officials have not yet released a full copy of CAFTA, but a summary on the USTR Web site says CAFTA includes a section that refers specifically to free trade in insurance services.

In a section on “access to services,” the summary says Central American countries have agreed to “accord substantial market access across their entire services regime, offering new access in sectors such as telecommunications, express delivery, computer and related services, tourism, energy, transport, construction and engineering, financial services, insurance, audio-visual and entertainment, professional, environmental and other sectors.”

Central American countries also have agreed to loosen restrictions that lock U.S. firms into exclusive or inefficient distributor arrangements, the summary says.

The administration still must get approval for the agreement from the Senate before the agreement can take effect.