Free Trade

Free Trade

April 2004

Coffee 101

Costa Rica has joined its Central American counterparts in signing CAFTA, a free trade agreement with the U.S.

If the agreement remains true to its entrepreneurial spirit, it could become a final phase in regional development – the home stretch in a marathon race away from the devastating civil wars and projectionist policies that hobbled Central America in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Those of us around back then remember the subsidized prices paid only to those suppliers who agreed with western ideology. The result? Decades of high-priced mediocrity.

As a roaster and packer of fine coffees, I welcome CAFTA. It’ll improve the standard of living by increasing opportunities, consumption and choice.

Nicaragua still places a 60-percent surcharge on Costa Rican coffee sold in its hotels, and Guatemala holds up Costa Rican coffee in customs. Under CAFTA, these barriers should fall, opening up a region-wide market of 40 million Central Americans eager to pay fair prices for top-quality products.

The shift from price and market controls to independent economies with clear, agile rules for doing business will attract new investors, create jobs, improve education and boost spending power.

People who have more money and are better educated drink more fine coffee. CAFTA nations will observe an influx of foreign goods – goods that possibly won’t reflect national culture; the national idiosyncrasy. Local consumers will choose to embrace these products or reject them. But fears of culture-diluting globalization are better resolved in the marketplace than on the picket line. And they will be.

Café Britt has proved that Central America can be about more than just supplying raw materials to sophisticated northern markets. We have the workers and expertise to add value and go head to head with the world’s best. CAFTA will bring out the best in us.

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