SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, June 14 (Reuters) - Costa Rica applauded a move by the United States on Monday to ease tariffs on sugar imports from the Central American country, lifting the last barrier to a regional free-trade deal.
Costa Rica was the last country to join the Central America Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, in January of 2009 but the country's Congress dragged its feet implementing reforms required by the agreement.
The legislative delay prompted the U.S. government to suspend Costa Rica's tariff-free sugar imports this January.
Costa Rica's sugar industry, which usually exports between 130,000 and 140,000 tonnes of sugar a year, estimates the losses from the U.S. suspension at up to $1 million.
But in April this year, Costa Rica's Congress finally approved the last reform needed to complete CAFTA by toughening copyright laws to protect intellectual property rights, and the U.S. responded on Monday by lifting the ban on sugar.
"We're very glad to see this nightmare over," Edgar Herrera, the head of the country's sugar chamber, told Reuters.
Now Costa Rica can sell up to 13,880 tonnes of sugar in the United States without duties, according to the Costa Rican Foreign Trade Ministry.
CAFTA, which groups five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic was signed in 2005 but popular opposition to the deal in Costa Rica held up its passage in the country for several years.
(Reporting by Alex Leff, Editing by Sandra Maler)