TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduran President Manuel Zelaya opened the seventh round of talks on an association agreement (AA) between Central America and the European Union (EU). The talks, which began on 30 March, hinged on the three central features of commercial integration, political integration, and cooperation.
At the opening ceremony, President Zelaya talked about the international financial crisis and its effects on Central America. He produced figures to illustrate the extent of the jobs crisis and the decline in regional cross-border trade.
Terra reported that Zelaya also stressed the importance of expanding the regional customs union beyond its present member countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The AA has developed from primarily a trade agreement into a dialogue that embraces politics and international cooperation. The Honduran chief negotiator, Melvin Redondo, told La Tribuna that the trade talks were 80 percent completed.
Approximately 400 delegates from both sides spent five days in the Honduran capital trying to break the deadlock on the cooperation process, which, according to AFP, has become mired due to squabbles over trade – especially bananas and sugar and the EU’s health and hygiene requirements.
The EU also made controversial demands concerning the deepening of democracy, the Central American integration process, and anti-terrorism measures that were not accepted by the Central American nations. President Zelaya responded to their demands with a proposal to include support for the region’s democracies and the people’s struggle for liberty and dignity in the agreement.
According to La Tribuna, the EU’s chief negotiator, Rupert Schlegelmilch, believes that key issues are market access and the protection of intellectual property. “We have been talking for three months,” he said, “but the most important issues are market access and some questions of sustainable development”.
Petros Mavromichalis, the head of the Mexico and Central America Unit at the European Commission External Relations Directorate General, said that a practical study was needed to determine what effect the present agreement had had on free movement of goods, provision of services, and European investment in the region, reported Terra.
The agreement is expected to give more than 6,000 Central American products favourable access to the European market. According to La Prensa, Central America expects to define its position on free access for imports from the European Community at the end of the meeting.
There is optimism that differences over the so-called “sensitive” products will be settled when the two sides next meet in Brussels in May and that the final agreement will be ratified in January 2010.