Dominican Republic Wants In On Trade Talks
28 June 2006
By Lee Berthiaume
Ambassador Eduardo Tejera hopes his country can join a multilateral trade deal with Canada similar to the one it already has with the U.S., but he worries that the Dominican Republic may have missed its opportunity.
Several years after a proposed free trade agreement between the Dominican Republic and Canada fell through, the Caribbean nation is lobbying to be included in a controversial Canada-Central American free trade agreement, negotiations for which will likely resume this summer.
"If we are not approved [to join the agreement] in the very near future, [it] will hurt Dominican businesses and Canadian businesses because we will be in limbo," says Dominican Ambassador Eduardo Tejera said last week.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien agreed to open negotiations with the Dominican Republic in March 2002. At the time, the Dominican Republic ranked as Canada’s fourth largest export market in the Caribbean, with $189 million worth of Canadian goods heading south in 2001.
The Department of Foreign Affairs undertook an exercise to collect public reaction to the proposed negotiations in November of that year, but after Mr. Chrétien left office, the talks stalled and appear to have been abandoned.
Agreement negotiations between Canada and four other Central American countries-Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras-have been dawdling since 2004, but are expected to recommence in the next few months. In the meantime, the United Stated inked a similar agreement that included the four countries and the Dominican Republic.
In recent months, Canada’s new Tory government has indicated its desire to resume work on the Central America Four Free Trade Agreement (CA4), and Mr. Tejera says with his country already a part of the joint free trade agreement with the U.S., being included in the discussions with Canada would maintain the "harmony" and "symmetry" the Dominican Republic already has in trade issues with the four Central American countries.
The Dominican Republic has already appealed to Canadian officials, and is working to build support from the four Central American countries already involved in the negotiations, with positive results, Mr. Tejera says.
"They have been very responsive," he says, adding with about 80 per cent of the agreement having been completed already, "We need to make them sure that if we are included that we will not delay the process."
The concern, according to Mr. Tejera, is that the negotiations will progress to a point where the Dominican Republic cannot join. He says his country is willing to look into a bilateral agreement with Canada, but joining the CA4, or Canada-Central America Four Free Trade Agreement, "will be faster."
While Mr. Tejera did not mention the previous bilateral talks that were initiated when Mr. Chrétien was prime minister, he did blame the Dominican Republic’s tardiness in showing an interest in the CA4 on the former government’s lack of initiative and desire, at the time, to focus on domestic policies.
DR’s Inclusion Up To Officials
The CA4 has recently been targeted by some 150 solidarity groups from Latin America and Canada over concerns the agreement is being negotiated behind a veil of secrecy and will negatively affect the Central American countries’ economies and workers.
Helena Guergis, Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade, says the priority is getting the Standing Committee on International Trade to make a recommendation on whether negotiations for the CA4, which have been stalled since 2004, should go forward.
Whether the Dominican Republic is included or not "is up to departmental officials," she adds. "It will have to come back another day."
Staff at the Department of International Trade are aware of the Dominican Republic’s interest in joining the negotiations, said department spokeswoman Anne-Marie Parent, but with the negotiations stalled it would be "premature to discuss adding another country at this time."
"There is currently no plan to expand the negotiations right now," she added.
Alcides Montiel, Minister Counsellor at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., says the four Central American countries already involved in the negotiations "are very close to" the Dominican Republic.
While Mr. Montiel says hadn’t heard of any official acceptance from his government on allowing the Dominican Republic into the negotiations, the fact that it was included in the free trade agreement with the U.S. indicates to him it would be feasible.
"Historically, we don’t see any issue," he says.