European Commission press release | Brussels, 23 January2009
EU and Central America pursue negotiations for an Association Agreement; €15 million EC assistance package for regional integration announced
The European Commission and Central America  will meet in Brussels from 26 to 30 January 2009 for the sixth round of negotiations leading to an Association Agreement between the two regions. In addition, the Commission is announcing a €15 million aid package to support the strengthening of regional institutions in Central America and the participation of civil society in the process. Both parties intend to conclude this year a comprehensive agreement, which will, among other things, create a free trade area between the EU and Central America. The third EU-Central America Private Sector Forum, co-organised by EUROCHAMBERS, FECAEXCA/CECA  and CENCIT , will take place on the morning of 27 January 2009 and will allow for an exchange between private sector representatives from the two regions.
On the eve of these negotiations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy, said: “This year promises to be both very eventful and full of challenges. We have to deal with an unprecedented economic crisis and to avoid any protectionist tendencies. There will also be important elections in several countries of Central America and in the European Union. In this specific context, the European Union underlines its commitment to greater stability and prosperity in Central America. We are entering a crucial phase of the negotiations on an Association Agreement between our two regions and this session in particular will be decisive. I am therefore asking the negotiators to intensify their efforts to reconcile their positions.”
She continued: “The recent history of the EU has shown that countries have everything to gain from cooperating, showing solidarity and uniting in their efforts to tackle the challenges of globalisation together. This is why the Commission has, from the outset, supported the Central American Integration System (SICA). Now, with this new €15 million programme, we hope to bring the SICA into the fast lane by helping it to reform and to respond more effectively to the concerns of its citizens.”
Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said ’with the right mix of energy and political commitment we should be in a position to conclude the Association Agreement between the EU and Central America this year. I am committed to do everything possible in order to achieve this’.
Negotiations next week will touch all the chapters foreseen in the Agreement: political dialogue, cooperation and trade. More than 300 delegates and civil society actors from Central America will travel to Brussels. Since the launch of negotiations in mid-2007, rounds have taken place in San José (October 2007), Brussels (February 2008), San Salvador (April 2008), Brussels (July 2008) and Guatemala City (October 2008).
In the framework of its 2008 Annual Action Programme for Central America, the European Commission adopted the second Programme of Support to Central American Regional Integration (PAIRCA II), which is the continuation of a previous institutional support. The Programme aims at strengthening the SICA institutional system (mainly Secretariat-General, Court of Justice, Parliament, Executive Committee and Consultative Committee), with the objective of increasing its efficiency and legitimacy. It is also intended to enhance civil society participation and networking at all levels, as well as to raise awareness among the population on regional matters and make training and information available to the public, with the idea of increasing transparency.
As regards trade, the two sides have provisionally agreed on several issues across the twelve sub-groups. Following the successful meeting in Guatemala in October, Trade and Economy Ministers of the Central American countries will be present in Brussels and will meet with Commissioner Ashton on the opening day of the round.
Both private and public sector representatives will be present at the EU-CA Private Sector Forum, which will focus on the state of play of EU-CA negotiations, the trends and future perspectives for EU regulation in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors, as well as the business opportunities that exist for Central America in CO2 certificates.
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 Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; and Panama as observer.
 Federación de Cámaras Centroamericanas de Exportadores / Consejo Empresarial Centroamericano.
 Comisión Empresarial de Negociaciones Comerciales Internacionales.