The Salvadoran Minister of Economics Hector Dada clarified on Friday that El Salvador would participate in the next round of negotiations with the European Union (EU). This comes only a few days after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega stated that El Salvador and Nicaragua would not participate due to their failure to reach an agreement with their European counterparts on trade issues.
The EU and the block of Central American countries that includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panamá, first formalized relations in 1984 with the San José Dialouge. In 1993, the EU and Central American block signed the Framework Cooperation Agreement laying the framework for economic cooperation, including most-favored nation treatment, improved trade cooperation, and investment. In 2003, they signed the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, and the next year they began negotiating the Association Agreement, which the subject of the most current negotiations.
The Association Agreement is built around three pillars including political dialogue, increased cooperation, and a free trade zone. The sticking points in the latest rounds of negotiation involve concerns over free trade. Central American countries want lower import duties on the bananas they send to Europe and larger quotas for dairy products, meant, sugar, and rice. The parties have also been unable to reach an agreement on rules of origin on coffee, tuna, plastics, and fuel and ethyl alcohol.
In April during the round of negotiations in Brussels, Guatemalan Deputy Minister for Integration and Foreign Trade Raul Trejo stated, “we do not see a real willingness on the part of Europe to take Central America’s interests seriously.” He continued, “We are still a long way from reaching agreements on access for sugar quotas, textiles and apparel, and beef. It is up to the EU whether or not this treaty will be signed.”
Following the negotiations, which ended last week, Daniel Ortega declared that the European negotiators are trying to impose conditions on the countries in the region before they will raise the dialogue to the Presidential levels of the EU and Central American blocks. He says further, “ it is probable that neither European communities nor their governments have any idea how they are negotiating, or what the negotiators are saying in their name.” He further characterized the negotiation process as a form of imperialism or modern colonialism. He called on other Central American countries to join him in abandoning the negotiations.
Minister Dada, however, affirmed that “El Salvador is not evaluating whether to participate or not, we have categorically affirmed that we considered the last round in Brussels to be over because there was nothing more to do there, as both blocks required some time to analyze the situation.”
Christina Martins, a delegate from the EU in Costa Rica, commented “there are a lot of Rumors circulating. The only thing that is certain for now is that nothing has been confirmed, neither in terms of a date nor place [for the next round of negotiations].” She continued that the only thing confirmed up until now is the Meeting of Economic and Foreign Commerce Ministers of Central America which will happen on May 5th in Guatemala.