Q: One of your neighbours, Panama, is inaugurating its newly expanded canal at the end of June. What does this mean for Costa Rica and what opportunities will come from this project?
A: We see the enlargement of the Panama Canal as a great opportunity for the whole region and a complement to other projects being developed around the Caribbean basin – not only in Panama, but in Costa Rica, Honduras, Cuba and Colombia. It’s part of a geopolitical complex that we see as an integrated area.
For us, it raises the opportunity for more trade and the possibility of using this trade not only in our port [the Moin Container Terminal developed by Maersk's port operator APM Terminal] in terms of container transfer and other sorts of services but also the construction of our dry canal, which is also likely to be developed in Costa Rica over the next 10 years. So the Panama Canal has become a very important complement to the vision we have of utilising the greater Caribbean basin as an integrated trade and transfer area.
Q: In 2015, the Costa Rican economy grew by 3.7%. What are your expectations for the future?
A: Well, the numbers have adjusted to 4.2% for 2016 and it’s going to continue growing at that pace. I would expect that by the end of my mandate, if we’re able to fix this fiscal situation, the economy will probably be growing at 5.5%, 6% maybe. So this is very optimistic. Secondly, we hope that inflation will remain close to zero through the period, but it is not going to grow by more than 2% to 3% if it grows. We hope the unemployment rate will fall even more.
Structural unemployment rates in Costa Rica have moved from 8% to 10%, but we hope to bring that down, and ultimately we’d like to see more investment coming into the [services sector]. So we are hoping with a new convention centre that will be built in San Jose we will be able to add four points of growth to our tourism industry, which is back at the levels we had before the 2008 crisis and growing exponentially. That combination of services, tourism and good opportunities in controlling inflation and the likelihood of a fiscal agreement all point to a strong and very stable economy, which is very important. At this point, I can say Costa Rica’s democratic institutions are holding firm and therefore the country has a good outlook for the future.
Q: Foreign investors already play an important role in the Costa Rican economy. Looking ahead, what part can they play in the development of the country?
A: It’s key and has been key since Costa Rica decided to diversify its economy. Thirty years ago, Costa Rica was only an agricultural country exporting primary goods – coffee, sugar cane, bananas, pineapples – and now we are exporting all of that but we [also] have this other sector [the international trade and logistics sector] very much linked to the more dynamic sectors of the international economy and that has to do fundamentally with FDI.
At a time when investments are contracting around the world, Costa Rica keeps on growing in terms of receiving investments at a rate of 12% a year. That is remarkable, and I’m very happy to say that this trend is likely to continue. So we consider investment as a fundamental strategy for growth in our future.