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Viewing cable 08SANJOSE444, SCENESETTER FOR COMMERCE DAS WALTER BASTIAN'S AND TREASURY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08SANJOSE444 2008-05-27 21:09 2011-03-02 16:04 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-02/Investigacion.aspx
VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0444/01 1482152
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 272152Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9768
INFO RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA 5323
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000444 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/EPSC, WHA/PPC AND EEB 
PLEASE PASS TO USTR DOLIVER/AMALITO 
PLEASE PASS TO TREASURY SGRAY 
MANAGUA FOR DAVID KRZYDA: PLEASE PASS TO DAS BASTIAN AND DAS ONEILL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: CS ECON ETRD PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR COMMERCE DAS WALTER BASTIAN'S AND TREASURY 
DAS BRIAN O'NEILL'S TRIP TO COSTA RICA 
 
REF: A. SAN JOSE 410 
     B. 07 SAN JOSE 1926 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Embassy San Jose warmly welcomes Commerce DAS 
Walter Bastian and Treasury DAS Brian O'Neill.  Both visit Costa 
Rica as the effort to implement CAFTA progresses through the final 
stages of modifying Costa Rican laws to conform to commitments made 
under CAFTA.  The Arias administration remains deeply committed to 
CAFTA, and is slowly making progress.  The government's pro-CAFTA 
coalition remains fragile.  Eight of 13 CAFTA-related bills have 
been completed; five others remain in progress, including those 
covering controversial intellectual property (IP) and insurance 
issues.  Apart from the CAFTA debate, the Costa Rican economy 
continues to post positive figures:  foreign direct investment (FDI) 
remains high, tourism numbers have been stable or increasing, and 
exports have been growing (now exceeding USD 8 billion).  Also in 
the backdrop of the all-consuming CAFTA saga are positive reforms 
underway within the Ministry of Finance.  Treasury's Office of 
Technical Assistance (OTA) programs have contributed to the GOCR 
increase in tax collections (36 percent in 2007) and an increasingly 
more sophisticated approach to budgeting.  END SUMMARY. 
 
------------------- 
THE CAFTA SCORECARD 
------------------- 
 
2. (U) As of May 27, the national assembly (Asamblea) had completed 
over half the CAFTA legislation (eight of 13).  A ninth bill (on IPR 
reforms) was bounced by the Supreme Court for constitutional 
questions (see para 5 below).  The four remaining bills (on 
modernizing telecommunications, opening the insurance market, making 
additional IP changes, and ratification of various standing CAFTA 
amendments) are in varying stages of action: 
 
COMPLETED BY ASAMBLEA: 
Signed into law:              6 
Pending signature:            2 
 
WORKS IN PROGRESS AT THE ASAMBLEA: 
Returned by Supreme Court:    1 (Asamblea to correct and vote 
again) 
Under debate:                 4 
 
TOTAL                        13 
 
--------------------------------- 
THE NEVER ENDING CAFTA CHALLENGES 
--------------------------------- 
 
3. (SBU) The Asamblea made more progress on CAFTA legislation in the 
four months from November 2007-February 2008 than its predecessor 
had in the previous four years, but momentum dissipated after the 
EIF extension was granted.  The leaders of the 38-seat pro-CAFTA 
coalition well understand the need to keep moving, but have found 
this challenging. 
 
4. (SBU) The principal challenge is maintaining and managing the 
government-led coalition of 38 members (the G38).  This is important 
because a two-thirds majority (precisely 38) is needed to form a 
quorum, to set rules, and to manage most legislation.  Several weeks 
ago, Christian Unity Party (PUSC) member Bienvenido Venegas, tried 
to parlay his vote into a political trade for more attention and 
resources from the central government for his home district 
(Puntarenas).  Though the GOCR cooperated to a point, Venegas's 
support has remained elusive.    Now, the Libertarian Movement (ML) 
party is challenging the GOCR by delaying action on legislation.  ML 
has not cooperated with the G38 to grant fast track authority -- 
needed in order to meet the October deadline -- to the remaining IP 
bill and a bill comprised of CAFTA's amendments.  The current 
impasse prompted Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz to 
publicly comment on the inaction and state his deep concerns that 
the inaction "is counter to the interests of the nation and 
achieving FTA approval prior to the October 1 deadline."  Privately, 
COMEX officials describe a frustrated ML party that desires a higher 
profile for its cooperation with the GOCR on CAFTA but feels 
short-shrifted.  Also, ML may recognize that its ultimate party 
fortunes are limited and the current situation best defines a moment 
of pivotal power -- and one to exploit -- for the party. 
 
5. (SBU) An ongoing challenge for concluding the CAFTA deal is the 
Supreme Court, specifically the Constitutional Chamber (Sala IV), 
which reviews most legislation between the required first and second 
votes of the Asamblea.  The opposition has ensured that all CAFTA 
bills are reviewed by the Sala IV, delaying the legislative process, 
but only one bill has been bounced for corrections to date.  COMEX 
and USTR recently met in Costa Rica and discussed changes to the 
 
returned IP bill.  Progress was made but discussions between the two 
parties will continue the first week of June in Washington.  The 
Asamblea is to begin action on these corrections as soon as COMEX 
completes its modifications to the IP bill in consultation with 
USTR. 
 
6. (SBU) Political distractions constitute another challenge.  A 
special committee has been taking testimony on allegations that the 
Colombian FARC had ties to some political figures, including 
legislators, in Costa Rica.  To date there have been no significant 
revelations.  Another new focus has been the Arias Administration's 
decision to propose two major extraordinary budget items to 
reinforce public security in the country and address the issue of 
food security. 
 
7. (SBU) Although the political situation may seem totally consumed 
by the CAFTA debate, there are horizons beyond CAFTA which pose 
still another challenge:  changing post-CAFTA political alliances. 
Portions of the Arias Administration's likely post-CAFTA agenda are 
attractive to the current opposition party, Citizens Action Party 
(PAC), and anathema to some members of the current CAFTA coalition 
(G38).  For example, the Arias Administration has long advocated an 
increase in taxes in order to invest in better government and is 
currently promoting an extraordinary budget of about $88 million to 
promote food production and subsidize food consumption.  It appears 
likely that the five ML legislators will oppose significant aspects 
of these proposals, although at the moment the ML are quasi-members 
of the G38.  PAC, on the other hand, promotes state-orientated 
solutions and is likely to support the administration's post-CAFTA 
proposals to some degree.  The danger for the GOCR lies in the 
transition period when the G38 must be maintained in the face of 
potential political re-alignment. 
 
---------------------------------------- 
A COMMITMENT, YES. . .BUT WITH A CAVEAT? 
---------------------------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Despite these challenges, the Arias Administration remains 
committed to completing the legislation and implementing CAFTA. 
President Arias (and by implication, his pushing to complete CAFTA) 
remains popular.  He received a 50 percent good or very good rating 
in a UNIMER poll released March 24 with the lowest negative rating 
(14 percent) since taking office.  The public and most political 
parties are tired of the protracted CAFTA debate and want to close 
this chapter and move on to other important issues on the horizon. 
 
 
9. (SBU) The GOCR claims to understand that the extension to October 
1 was a one-time exception.  Yet, we still sense the hidden 
expectation  by GOCR that intractable aspects of the remaining 
legislation, for example, IP or insurance, might be resolved through 
last-minute, high-level political bargaining.  This is an 
unrealistic expectation on the part of GOCR since USTR is obligated 
by its Congressional mandate to implement CAFTA as negotiated and 
ratified.  In his April visit, AUSTR Eissenstat clearly defined 
USTR's mandate in ensuring that the new laws and regulations are 
CAFTA compliant (Ref A). 
 
----------------------------------- 
THE NEAR TERM SIGNIFICANCE OF CAFTA 
----------------------------------- 
 
10. (U) Without CAFTA, the textile and the tuna sectors are at risk 
due to the short-run possibility of the loss of Caribbean Basin 
Trade Promotion Act (CBTPA) trade preferences on October 1 and the 
long-run risk that Costa Rica will not have permanent, tariff-free 
access to the U.S. market.  For Costa Rica, both risks would portend 
a competitive disadvantage with its CAFTA neighbors.  Business 
leaders predict 20,000 jobs in the tuna and textile sectors are at 
stake. 
 
11. (U) In the intensely competitive textile industry, buyers want 
price certainty which Costa Rican companies currently cannot 
provide.  Indicative of the uncertainty, the industry contracted 
from $730 million in 2002 to $557 million in 2006.  The Costa Rican 
textile industry is heavily reliant on the U.S. market and the 
preferential treatment it receives under the CBTPA (Ref B).  The 
U.S. accounted for 86 percent of its total textile exports in 2006 
and CBTPA lowers the U.S. tariff from 18 percent to zero for most 
textile products.  Thus, without an implemented CAFTA, industry 
uncertainty has reached critical levels as producers openly talk 
about moving production outside of Costa Rica. 
 
-------------------------------- 
ARE THERE OTHER ECONOMIC ISSUES? 
-------------------------------- 
 
 
12. (U) In spite of the anticipation of a downturn, the Costa Rican 
economy continues to post positive economic indicators.  The economy 
registered 6.8 percent growth in 2007 and is projected to grow by 
3.8 percent in 2008.  Other highlights include: 
 
- FDI remains high.  From 2000 to 2007, FDI grew from $409 million 
to an estimated $1,885 million in 2007.  The U.S. contributed 
roughly 60 percent of FDI in recent years, while the European 
Community contributed roughly 15 percent. 
 
- Tourism numbers have been stable or increasing.  Annual tourist 
visits to Costa Rica doubled in the ten year period from 1998 to 
2007 from 943,000 to 1,900,000 (estimated) in 2007.  For the first 
quarter of 2008, the media reported a 17 percent increase in visits. 
 
 
- Export totals have been growing.  Costa Rica's exports totaled 
$8.2 billion in 2006.  Costa Rica's economy is relatively open to 
world trade, with exports accounting for 37 percent of GDP in that 
year.  While the traditional agricultural exports of bananas, 
coffee, sugar and beef are still the backbone of export trade, a 
variety of industrial and specialized agricultural products have 
broadened export trade in recent years. 
 
13. (U) On fiscal affairs, the Finance Minister, Guillermo Zuniga, 
and the Central Bank President, Francisco de Paula Gutierrez, 
demonstrate prudent management of the economy and a commitment to 
reform.  In 2007, the GOCR experienced its first fiscal surplus in 
50 years.  Plus, the Finance Ministry (the Hacienda) has initiated 
several new reforms through the assistance of Treasury's OTA. 
Problematic is the lack of a terrorist finance law in Costa Rica -- 
one of many bills in the queue behind CAFTA legislation and key to 
Costa Rica's future participation in the Egmont Group -- and the 
lack of regulatory oversight of international transactions with 
specific regard to money laundering. 
 
14. (U) Currently, the OTA operates three programs in Costa Rica of 
which two -- tax administration and budget -- are well underway and 
a third, debt management, just launched in February 2008.  Both of 
the established OTA programs have contributed to instituting 
reforms.  All three are summarized below: 
 
- The OTA's tax administration project started in spring of 2005. 
The OTA interacted mainly with the Internal Revenue Directorate, but 
has also engaged at the Ministerial level and in Customs 
Administration.  The project has primarily focused on improving 
planning and management and technical and management assistance 
which resulted in the improvement of collections (up 36 percent in 
2007) and audit and taxpayer assistance operations.  At the Ministry 
level, work is underway to assist the implementation of an Internal 
Affairs organization through which to investigate allegations of 
misconduct and corruption by Ministry officials.  Finally, the OTA 
will provide an independent source of advice and managerial 
monitoring for a major private initiative to modernize the 
technology infrastructure of tax administration.  The OTA project is 
scheduled to conclude in the fall of 2008. 
 
- Finance Minister Zuniga requested OTA technical assistance in the 
areas of budget policy and management.  Supported by Embassy San 
Jose and commencing in December 2006, the OTA's work has resulted in 
key reforms, including the implementation of a medium term budget 
forecast for the GOCR.  The budget project also improved the quality 
and quantity of information available to decision-makers and 
constituents regarding the effectiveness of GOCR programs in 
utilizing budget resources to meet Government objectives.  The OTA 
has provided support in the areas of budget execution, audit, and 
control.  The budget policy and management technical assistance 
program is scheduled to conclude in late-2008. 
 
- The OTA and the Hacienda launched the Government Debt Issuance and 
Management Assistance (GDIM) project February 2008.  The project 
will provide technical assistance in debt management, focusing on 
staff capacity building; risk analysis and management; cash flow 
forecasting; debt sustainability; domestic market development 
(institutional and retail) for government and central bank 
obligations; and fiscal/monetary policy and operations coordination. 
 The initial work has focused on improving the secondary market for 
government securities since Costa Rican wholesale financial markets 
are virtually non-existent.  This effort will also support the 
Central Bank as it makes the difficult transition to a more flexible 
exchange-rate and an inflation-targeting regime which will require 
the creation of new markets for managing system liquidity. 
 
BRENNAN