Q: Costa Rica has seen quite robust growth in recent years. You closed with 4.3% growth in the last quarter of 2016 – what are your expectations for the future?
A: We believe it is going to grow around that same proportion, maybe a little less, which is the trend in Latin America. We are enthused because tourism is up by double digits and it has been growing for almost a year-and-a-half now.
Inflation remains very low, investments are still strong – we are growing at 9% in FDI and 11% in exports. So the overall picture seems to be very favourable. Since we are growing at more than double the regional average, we feel comfortable that we will maintain this until the end of the administration a year from now.
Q: Structural unemployment remains high in Costa Rica. How is your government working to create more labour-intensive jobs, as well as making the labour market more inclusive, particularly for women?
A: This week we learned that structural unemployment dropped from 9.5% to 9.1%. We inherited an unemployment rate of 10.1% so it’s not that I’m comfortable with it, but the trend is downward.
Most of that unemployment comes from populations that are not educated and are in traditional agriculture rather than from the more dynamic sectors of the economy related to services, medical devices and advanced manufacturing. In fact, unemployment in that realm is basically nil.
And in those sectors, women have ample representation: 41%. In the services and the free zones it’s probably more than 50%. So we’re having a problem with the least educated and trained labour force and therefore we are putting most of our efforts there.
For example, at the end of this year we will have in place a dual education programme in the technical schools, which is going to be the first one in the country, to promote the transition from secondary schooling into labour-intensive activities. So this I think will be a case in point for the future because we’re going to stimulate dual education, with the support of the German government.
Q: Costa Rica is one of the greenest countries in the world in terms of sustainable practices. What is the key, in your experience, to balancing development and sustainability?
A: That is one of the largest challenges we have. There are always pressures over land from both the production side and the conservationists, but I think it’s a combination of a number of things.
First of all: education. We have been investing in education for more than 150 years and that helps a lot when people are aware, capable and educated on how to handle these things rationally. Second, it has to do with opportunities. We are trying to get more employment out of the central region of San Jose, and this has been done by Cinde, our investment attraction agency, and also Procomer, our export agency, to get more jobs nearer to where people live.
The fact that all electricity consumption comes from renewable sources has been good for many life sciences and advanced companies operating from Costa Rica. They’re clean companies, they want to be in a clean country with clean practices and we have that.
We have very strong legislation that stems from the 1970s in terms of protecting the environment, including constitutional mandates: Article 50 of the constitution ensures that we have the right to live in a clean environment. So it’s very important.
Q: You’re not running for re-election in 2018. Why is this?
A: I am not, and I vowed never again. I’ve always had problems with politicians [holding onto] power and I think that sometimes when you have power you become crazy with it, and I don’t want that to happen to me. I think I’m level headed and being a professor I handle things differently, but I think we have enough good people.