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China and Costa Rica move toward free trade agreement

China wants ties in the region, Costa Rica wants Chinese goods. But not everyone's pleased.

But not everyone fears the supposed threat of the dragon. Would-be exporters in the agricultural sector are hoping the trade pact will help diversify Costa Rica's portfolio, making exports a bit less computer chip- and U.S.-dominant. 

"We see it as a very important opportunity especially because it would mean being able to access one of largest markets in the world, which also has significant purchasing power," said Rigoberto Vega, vice president of the Chamber of Agriculture. 

He said several sectors want in on the agreement, including beef, poultry, pineapples and ornamental plants. 

"You have to accept the reality that Costa Rica already is trading with China without a free trade agreement," Ocampo said. An FTA "needs to be seen as an instrument to help us establish clearer rules over a relationship that's already being played out today." 

For some proponents, it seems to be a matter of going with the China flow. After Chile and Peru, Costa Rica would become Latin America's third country to broker an FTA with the Asian country. China is already the biggest buyer of goods from Chile and Brazil, and the second-biggest buyer for Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba and Peru.

The U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has urged nations in the region to seek even closer contact with China, stressing its resilience during even the lowest slumps of the global economic crisis. 

For China, investing in Costa Rica could allow it to do business more easily with all of Costa Rica's current and future FTA partners. "Remember that Costa Rica has a platform built through trade agreements that allows it to sell, without paying taxes, to a large number of countries," Ocampo said. "China would like to gain access from here to all those markets, avoiding the great barriers that those countries impose on it." This would potentially bring in gains for both countries. 

But Vilarrasa, whose plywood business folded under the competition, believes free-trade with China is a step in the wrong direction. He said, "Sending the system of production out there, just like other countries have, from a strategic position means eliminating the factories and productive system here. It doesn't make sense."