Costa Rica's textiles industry is confident that the DR-CAFTA agreement will be implemented in the Central American nation this spring, capping two years of bitter controversy over the agreement's ratification.

On Sunday (7 October), 52% of Costa Ricans said yes to a national referendum to approve the treaty, lifting hopes that Costa Rica will finally enter the bloc that removes
duties for trade between the US, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

The US government, which recently warned Costa Rica it would not negotiate a separate trade deal if it rejects DR-CAFTA, said it was "pleased" with the vote.

But while the referendum's results marked an omen of hope for the treaty's advocates, the deal is far from completed, said Jose Berliavsky, president of the Costa Rican Textiles Chamber CATECO.

He said Congress must still approve the accord by 29 February 2008. Given the strong opposition (both from political parties and unions) that has dogged the agreement since the US approved it in 2004, it could still fall through the cracks.

However, Berliavsky said the textiles industry is confident it will pass.

"The government is working very hard to implement DR-CAFTA," Berliavsky told just-style last night (10 October), adding that officials met the leading PAC opposition party yesterday to meet some of its requests.

"We have the backing of five political parties including the biggest Liberacion Nacional
party (in the sit of government) so we are confident we will get the votes we need to get CAFTA-DR rolling."

"If CAFTA-DR does not come through, the textiles industry will disappear in Costa Rica," Berliavsky warned.

The industry employs 15,000 people and is worth $700m.

The PAC and other parties have been beating the drum against DR-CAFTA, claiming it will prompt the liberalisation of the large insurance and communications industries.

There are also concerns that the pact will usher a flood of US farm and other imports, bringing big job losses.

By Ivan Castano.