SAN JOSE, Costa Rica Presidents Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia agreed on Friday to start negotiations for a free trade agreement between their two countries.
Santos said he expects the agreement to be ready for the leaders to sign at the end of this year and would then require approval from both congresses.
"We trust that the declaration signed today will allow us to work towards joint aspirations, such as joining the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)," said Chinchilla in a press conference after the meeting.
The first round of negotiations will be held on July 30 in Colombia and will be headed by trade ministers Sergio Diaz-Granados of Colombia and Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica.
Trade between the two countries totaled 503.9 million dollars last year and had a annual growth rate of 11 percent from 2002 to 2011, according to report by the Costa Rican trade ministry.
Some entrepreneurs in Costa Rica oppose the agreement arguing it will be hard for the Central American nation, which lacks infrastructure and has high energy costs, to compete with Colombia.
"With the signing of such agreements we are eliminating the import tariff, which is the only protection mechanism the production sector has to face imports from other countries. We should also consider the poor use we have made of other free trade agreements so far," said Marco Meneses, president of the Chamber of Industries.
(Reporting by Isabella Cota)