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Costa Rica to hold referendum on US trade pact


Costa Rica to hold referendum on U.S. trade pact

13 April 2007

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) — Costa Rica will hold a referendum on whether to enter a regional free trade pact with the United States, President Oscar Arias said on Friday, in a blow to Washington’s trade agenda in the region.

The trade deal known as CAFTA is in force in much of Central America but has faced stiff resistance from opposition lawmakers in Costa Rica. Arias did not say when the referendum would be held.

"For the first time, Costa Ricans ... will be able to directly decide the future of a very important law for the country," Arias told a news conference.

The White House struggled to win support for the pact in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005, where a bitter and divisive battle along party lines almost sunk the deal.

Arias’ comments came after Costa Rica’s top election court ruled on Thursday it might authorize a referendum if citizens collect signatures in favor totaling 5 percent of the country’s electoral roll over a nine-month period.

Opponents of the pact would have easily collected the roughly 130,000 signatures needed.