ALAJUELA, Costa Rica, January 26, 2011 - Hoping to add momentum to Central America’s economic integration, a key group of private sector executives and government officials joined this week the first regional integration training program –an initiative co-sponsored by the World Bank, INCAE Business School and various other partners to promote convergence of trade and other sectors in the region.
The Economic Regional Integration Program (PIER, in Spanish), makes good on several initiatives announced by World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick at the July 2010 Central American Presidential Summit to support the region’s integration bid.
Topping these initiatives is the need to strengthen the technical capacity of Central American institutions and people spearheading the integration ideal, which the newly launched program hopes to achieve, said World Bank senior economist for Central America, Humberto López.
A total of 48 professionals from Central American ministries and private companies dealing in agriculture, commerce and finance were selected through an admission process to participate in the first of four training modules scheduled for this year, López said.
“The World Bank recognized last year that Central America’s challenges can be most effectively addressed through economic integration, and President Zoellick announced a series of initiatives to this effect,” said López. “This joint program is part of the Bank’s contribution to help the region attain its integration goal,” he added.
PIER is a joint effort by Costa Rica's INCAE Business School, the World Bank, the Central American Economic Integration Secretariat (SIECA), Spain’s Finance Ministry and the University of Bern’s World Trade Institute.
Central America revived its integration efforts last year during a meeting of Central American presidents in San Salvador, where they vowed to work together on a joint integration agenda and asked the World Bank to play a key role as facilitator in this endeavor.
In a final summit declaration, the region's top decision makers promised to devote considerable political power and resources to achieve results in five key areas as their countries advance towards integral development. These areas include: democratic stability; disaster risk management and climate change; social inclusion; economic integration and strengthening of democratic institutions.
As a matter of fact, Central American economies and trade sectors are already deeply intertwined, making integration a less cumbersome process than in other parts of the world, said INCAE professor and PIER academic leader Alberto Trejos.
Central America has made significant progress in several areas of economic integration, such as creating a common market and intra-regional free trade agreements, but now it needs to harmonize and modernize its policies in order to deal with economies outside the region, said Trejos.
“The next step in our integration quest is to forge an economic and customs union, but we first need to synch our rules and policies so we can be competitive as a union vis-a-vis other markets,” Trejos argued.
And this is where the PIER program comes in.
It aims to provide public officials and business executives with the knowledge tools to better tackle the challenges of Central America entering a tough international trade arena: for example, the study of legal frameworks, agriculture regulations and policies, access to markets and competitiveness. The latter seems to be the name of the game to make a mark in the global arena of commerce.
To further contribute to this integration drive, the World Bank is also developing studies on regional competitiveness and trade accords, aimed at maximizing the potential benefits of FTAs, including the Dominican Republic-Central America and United States Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the Association Agreement with the European Union, signed recently, Lopez said.
The World Bank has contributed more than $400,000 to the PIER initiative -with half of the funding coming from the Spanish Trust Fund for Latin America.
PIER will take place in 4 week-long modules per week. The first module began Monday in Costa Rica and will end on January 28.