Update on Costa Rican sugar trade row

I recently wrote about a story that appeared in BoingBong and Michael Geist’s blog about Costa Rica being forced by the United States to pass maximalist IP legislation through the imposition of sugar import restrictions.  Diego Delfino of the excellent site 89 Decibleles has posted a response to my claims.  I take well Diego’s point that my own research was limited, and he provides much more detail than I was able to uncover.  In particular, Diego found two very good articles in La Republica and El Financiero which shed some light in the dispute.  I found the Financiero article specially useful.  In the relevant section, it reads:

“For his part, Marco Vinicio Ruiz, Minister of Comex, said this did not mean that the share was lost throughout the year, as when the problem is fixed it will be reactivated. Furthermore, these are only the quotas for CAFTA, the sugar industry has also a consolidated share in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is larger. According to estimates by Ruiz, CAFTA quota amount 11,000 tonnes, while domestic production is 250,000 tonnes.”

This seems to corroborate part of my research, namely that the USTR already allocated quotas to Costa Rican sugar for 2010, and these ones seem completely unaffected.  Diego’s research confirms an element that I had not been able to corroborate from the original stories, and that is that Costa Rica is indeed suffering from some form of sanction.  However, it is important to point out that this seems to be a surplus quota connected to CAFTA which does not affect all sugar exports.  This seems logical, as Costa Rica is not yet part of CAFTA because it has failed to implement the treaty.  We might argue that this is an imposition, but it is not.  Costa Rica signed the agreement, and in order to receive the added trade benefits, it must fulfil all of the obligations contained in the agreement, which include amending its IP legislation to comply with the terms of the bilateral trade agreement. The main question, which was the subject of the BoingBong and Geist articles, is whether the United States has threatened Costa Rica with sanctions if it does not pass IP legislation.  To this the answer still seems to be negative, as there is still no evidence that this is the case.  Sugar exports are definitely being affected, but this is the surplus that the country would be able to export as part of CAFTA, and will not be able to do so because, technically, Costa Rica is not part of CAFTA yet.  This does mean that sugar exports are currently linked to parliament passing IP legislation.  In a way, it is true that there is a connection, but not the one that is implied by the original sources. I would like to qualify the above comment.  My initial post should not be considered as a criticism against Michael Geist and Cory Doctorow, two people I greatly admire.  My concern is that the two cited headlines assumed that the U.S. was doing something, while I found little evidence behind the motives, hence the post.  I would also like to thank Diego Delfino for his excellent post and for keeping me in the right track.  It is good to be reminded that one should perform thorough research when one is trying to debunk someone else’s reports.  Bloggers often criticise mainstream journalists for failing to meet stringent research standards, when we often incur in the same fault.

Update: The story has been more widely circulated than I thought. Techdirt has mentioned it, and after hundreds of comments, nobody cared to check its accuracy.  I guess that being at the bottom of the blogosphere ecology does not help get the news out.

2 thoughts on “Update on Costa Rican sugar trade row

  1. I'm very glad you've written this to refute the amazing self-licking blogosphere that grabs a headline, does no research, and slams the U.S.

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