Some Cry Foul as US Blocks Costa Rican Sugar

Last Updated Jan 25, 2010 12:04 PM EST

The Tico Times, Costa Rica's English-Language newspaper, reports that the U.S. is blocking future sugar imports from Costa Rica until Costa Rica passes the intellectual property legislation required by CAFTA, a trade agreement between the U.S., the Dominican Republic and a bunch of Central American countries. (h/t U.S. Food Policy)

But a law lecturer at the University of Edinburgh looked into the matter and could not find any evidence to back up the Tico Times story. It appears that Costa Rica has already passed its sugar quotas, which were set back in September, and it has nothing to do with Costa Rica's failure to pass IP legislation on schedule. [CORRECTION: see updated post.]

Nevertheless, both stories illustrate how misnamed the so-called "Free Trade Agreement" is. The intellectual property rights protections in CAFTA go beyond international standards, more closely resembling the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the U.S. Students in Costa Rica have been protesting the effect these provisions will have on education, and the effect on health care is another huge concern. Whatever one may think of these IP requirements, it's hard to see how they qualify as "free trade" rather than protectionism.

Sugar quotas are another good example. The U.S. sugar industry was one of the biggest opponents of CAFTA, and in the end, sugar was one of the few products countries were allowed to keep tariffs on (white corn was another). The U.S. agreed to slightly increase its sugar import quotas over 15 years, but the amount is tiny. The result is that the U.S. is blocking the shipping of sugar that's already been sold. It's easy to see why Costa Ricans are angry.

  • Katherine Glover