U.S. To Costa Rica: No Sugar Access Without Copyright Reform

Reports from Costa Rica indicate that final approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States is languishing in the Legislative Assembly due to concerns over the copyright provisions.  The CAFTA copyright provisions are similar to those found in the other major U.S. trade agreements concluded in recent years: DMCA-style protections, ISP liability, and copyright term extension are all part of the package. 

In this case, it is the responses that are most noteworthy. Within Costa Rica, the article reports that the copyright provisions in the trade treaty have set off a wave of student protests over what it means for education.  Meanwhile, health officials are concerned that the provisions on pharmaceutical products "would bankrupt the public health system." The response from the U.S. is important as well.  It is delaying market access to sugar from the developing country until the copyright reforms are in place.  Until that time, Costa Rican sugar producers will not be able to sell their product in the U.S.

Interestingly, Costa Rica is not the only country in the region grappling with U.S. pressure on copyright. 

In a refrain that sound familiar to Canadians, the Bahamas faces similar pressures from the USTR.  It has proposed IP enforcement reforms, though even the Chamber of Commerce President notes "people are entitled to eat, and in an economy as bad as this one is now, people are finding creative ways to survive and are choosing the path of least resistance. If they're going to sell a counterfeit bag for $100 to feed their family, and that's what they're going to be arrested for, does it make sense to put them in jail?"  While he advocates for reform and education, he adds that 90 – 95% of the counterfeit products come via the U.S. and it is foreign tourists that buy the majority of the products in local markets.

Update: Andres Guadamuz provides more background and context on the Costa Rica story beyond the initial Tico Times article.  He notes that the story originates with another article on delayed sugar shipments with sugar producers attributing the delays to the fact that the copyright law reforms have not been completed.  The U.S. embassy denied the linkage.


  1. Hmm
    This strikes me as underhanded, and seems to fall under the category of “blackmail”

    My, how the great have fallen in their ideologies. Then again I suppose they’ve always been this way…

  2. A joke
    Hard to believe the U.S. really cares about what happens in Haiti and other Caribbean countries when they pull garbage like this.

  3. Junji Hiroma says:

    This will be the new excuse to conform to ACTA
    US and EU :”No trade unless you conform to ACTA.”

    Can the US and EU legally bully other countries into ACTA?
    Cause if they can then that’ll really set me off.

    I think the EU want to control NA and make a NAU

  4. 🙁
    I am a American living in Costa Rica. I thought I escaped all this copyright nonsense. Apparently the US has very long arms…and they are not for hugging.

  5. Gerks
    So let me get this straight, they’ll cut off one of costa rica`s main exports and force them into poverty just to help further corporate profits? Don`t they read their own history? This is going to end up like the United Fruit company fiasco that sent latin america into dictatorships left and right. Wish congress would prorogue, maybe then the U.S. People would wake up and stop letting all these corporate lobbies control they’re government. Their founding father would surely be disappointed in these types of underhanded tactics. Hell, they’re founding fathers where on the other end of the damm table and fought against copyright. Let`s hope Canadians are strong enough to defend against this type of attack.

  6. Andres Guadamuz says:

    Background information
    The Tico Times report is a bit incomplete, I just came back from Costa Rica, so I can add some more detail. The report is correct that the IP provisions were hotly contested during the CAFTA referendum, and it was one of the biggest issues used by the NO camp to gather support. However, the NO lost the referendum, and the NO forces are currently in disarray. A good indication of this is that the February elections are being contested between two YES candidates, the right-wing Movimiento Libertario and the Centrist Liberación Nacional.

    There are two main reasons why the IP reform has not been passed yet. Firstly, the parliament is in recess, and it is unlikely that it will meet again until after the elections to be held February 7th. Secondly, local radio stations have mounted fierce opposition to any copyright reform, as they currently do not pay any royalties for playing music. In other words, a powerful media lobby is trying to avoid paying another powerful media lobby.

    I would like to be the first to claim that there is widespread opposition to IP reform in Costa Rica, but I think that it would be accurate to say that whatever happens the reform will take place.

  7. legislation
    We need some type of legislation to ensure that no trade agreement is capable of modifying, creating or overriding canadian law without first being passed through parliamentary process.

  8. Conflate Counterfeit with Fair Use
    The final paragraph suggests that this dispute is over counterfeit goods, right? The issue will be in focus if you correct the person who conflates trademarked real goods vs. a monopoly on an idea. Story, title, melody or word. Artists are handcuffed by people who sue them. No one defends the manufacture of phony property. Contraband is a criminal issue handled by police. Ot INTELPRO.

    If corporate lawyers are pressing for more laws and more jail time, let’s the keep the conversation from penalties for artistic or intellectual activities.

  9. Joel said: “We need some type of legislation to ensure that no trade agreement is capable of modifying, creating or overriding canadian law without first being passed through parliamentary process.”

    No we don’t, because that is already the case. No international treaty can vary domestic law by itself. Rather, any requisite changes to domestic law must first pass the normal legislative process before it can be implemented into law. This is one of the reasons why I find all the sturm und drang over ACTA, the EU Agreement, etc. rather overblown…even if we sign on to it, any changes to domestic law will still need to pass through the normal process.

  10. Captain Hook says:

    Eo, yes you are absolutely right, however look at how this works in practise with the WIPO Internet treaties.

    These were signed over 10 years ago, and thankfully have not been implemented yet. We are currently at the stage where the treaty is suppose to be scrutinized by parliamentarians who are then suppose to decide if and how we will ratify them. Never. I repeat NEVER!, has a single MP ever questioned IF we should ratify them, or IF any of the provisions of the treaty are fair. The only debate has been HOW we are to ratify it.

    The treaty itself is no longer negotiable, and the pressure is very strong from both inside and outside this country to ratify it.

  11. Standard operating procedure for the USA
    Read John Perkins excellent books documenting the USA’s economic strategies with respect to developing countries.,

  12. strunk&white says:

    not to split hairs
    but, Mr. Hook sir, if not one of our elected representatives has questioned if we should ratify WIPO — in a free democratic process — wouldn’t that suggest across-the-board support for ratification? Do you mean not even Charlie Angus, who is an MP, has stood up in Parliament to question ratification?

    I’m no expert, but that sounds like a non-issue.

    You know, focus on non-issues all you want. I’m just saying.

  13. Captain Hook says:

    WIPO Treaty is perfect
    By gosh you’re right whitey. I guess they just got absolutely everything perfectly right in that treaty. It’s a masterpiece. There really is nothing about it to question at all. It’s perfect.

    It is the first piece of legislation/psudo-legislation in the history of the world where everything really was really done right.

    — OR —

    Our MPs, including Charlie Angus are pragmatists who realize that the chances of actually being able to effect changes to the treaty at this point are slim to nil; and as poor as some sections of the treaty may be, the cost of not following through due to the inevitable trade retaliations it will create with the US, simply do not make it reasonable to fight it. So instead they (mostly Angus) concentrate on ways to implement it that will minimize the damage caused.

  14. strunk&white says:

    thanks for clearing that up
    Why so angry, Mr. Hook sir?

  15. Bundle Deal
    Hmm, Sounds like one of those annoying bundle deals large corporations are notorious for offering. Sure you may like one or two provisions, but you can’t have one without the rest. I can see how this can boil peoples blood. When I wrote my message, I was unaware of the entire ratification process. That being said, EO has an excellent point. Would the WIPO countries really stand for a made in Canada solution that very similarly resembles WIPO, yet makes away with all the negatives? No matter who gives out the package deals, the person offering it is always going to get more out of it.

  16. @strunk&white

    “if not one of our elected representatives has questioned if we should ratify WIPO” … “wouldn’t that suggest across-the-board support for ratification?”

    On the surface, one might think this is true. If so, why has it not been ratified yet?

    Perhaps our elected officials don’t quite have the common agenda that your statement implies. Or perhaps they agree “in principle”, but they disagree in the details.

  17. Anonymous Coward says:

    How Does It Feel?
    TechDirt / Mike Masnick re-writes your article and it gets slashdotted (lots of AdSense revenue for him).
    He gives you a link, but does he send you any royalties?

  18. Adsense revenue
    Oh, I highly doupt this is a for profit website. Especially since I can not seem to find a single for profit add. In fact, since this is oubviously an infromation site above all, I’m sure the good Prof will simply be happy that word is getting around.

  19. And I thought big oil was in control…
    When did the entertainment industry become MORE POWERFUL than actual governments?

    This is beyond reason, because it’s not just one or two countries here, it’s a PLETHORA of them “handing their crowns over” to the recording industry controls!

    Who would have though Mr. “666” would show up not as a president or other leader, not as some religious guru, but as a damn DJ!

  20. Robb Topolski says:

    Hello from Techdirt
    I was led here from Masnick’s article. I also went on to read the other two articles linked here. I hope that makes you happier.

  21. Costa Rican Sugar
    Like the lumber problem between Canada and the US, Costa Rica in the short term may have problems but both should be looking elsewhere than to the US to sell their goods.