The Business Year

Manuel González

COSTA RICA - Diplomacy

Four new embassies to open in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Abu Dhabi, and Australia

Minister, Foreign Affairs


Manuel Antonio González Sanz was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2014. He was previously Minister of Foreign Trade (2004-2006), Ambassador to the UN and its specialized organizations in Geneva, and Special Advisor to the Vice President of Costa Rica. He graduated from the University of Costa Rica and has an LL.M Stone Scholar (Honours), from Columbia University. He taught corporate law and securities at both the law and business schools of the University of Costa Rica and is a partner at one of the largest and oldest law firms in Central America, as well as having published numerous articles on financial, trade, and legal issues.

"Before the end of this administration, we will have at least four new embassies in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Abu Dhabi, and Australia."

What is your interpretation of the foreign policy of the country and its key challenges and priorities?

Since Costa Rica does not have an army, our main foreign policy focus is multilateralism; we rely on international law and organizations to defend ourselves and promote our interests. As such, we have strategic bilateral relations with traditional partners like the US and the EU, and non-traditional destinations with whom we have tried to focus on three areas. One is Southeast Asia, particularly countries such as Brunei and Malaysia, who were never on the radar of previous administrations. Of course, China is another important player; until recently we were the only country in Central America that had diplomatic relations with it. There are other important areas such as Central Asia, particularly Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The other region we have paid special attention is in the Middle East Arab countries, in particular the United Arab Emirates, where we are opening a new embassy. In fact representatives from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development will visit Costa Rica in July, as will the Chambers of Commerce of Dubai and Sharjah, these are also direct results of President Solis visit to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah in January, 2017. Before the end of this administration, we will have at least four new embassies in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Abu Dhabi, and Australia.

How is the government fostering multilateralism?

Since we do not have a diplomatic presence in every ASEAN country, we will participate actively in the FEALAC meeting in Seoul at the end of August. We hosted the meeting in 2015, which is still the only forum for dialog between Latin America and East Asia; hence, the level of participation between the two regions must really be improved. Currently, one of our most important pillars is disarmament in all its forms, especially nuclear, which is why Costa Rica held the presidency of the United Nations Conference to draft a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which approved a final text on July 7, 2017. The principals of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the environment are key to this. We have been critical of the Central America integration system and have pointed out the need for more transparency, accountability, and results. The reality is that the system is too big, bureaucratic, and inefficient. We had the presidency during the first semester of 2017 and worked hard on institutional reform, pragmatism, and closer relationships with observers. Security policies are also important for us, and drug trafficking in particular is something that is hitting the region hard. Costa Rica has been used for transit purposes, and we need to patrol more efficiently in the Pacific. The problem now is increasing local consumption. In Costa Rica, 65% of murders are drug-related. Therefore, we are working closely with Colombia and Panama to tackle this problem and be more efficient in the fight against drug trafficking. We have also established a closer relationship with the US, and President Solis has visited the White House twice within a period of six to eight months.

In what way has the country benefited from abolishing the army, and what are the strategies to ensure security in the country?

If you put yourself in the context of 1948, the pattern of Latin American dictatorships, and the civil war in Costa Rica in 1948 and invasion attempt of 1955, then it was a bold and difficult decision. We did it coming out of a civil war that only lasted one month but killed a lot of people. This made it even more difficult to imagine such a decision. That it was in the constitution merely a year later makes it even more difficult to imagine. However, this liberated a lot of resources that used to go to the military that could be now invested in human development, which makes the difference between Costa Rica and many other countries in the world. We defend ourselves by relying on international law; an example is our relationship with Nicaragua, with whom we have fought several cases in the International Court of Justice. Of course, we also need to have a strong solid relationship with our traditional partners while always adding new ones.

Why is it important to make a collective effort to foster economic development and security in Central America?

It is all about economies of scale, since we are small countries. Every medium-sized company sees Central America as a single market in their strategic business decisions. We have a lot of differences between our different nations that we need to iron out, however. In terms of business, the more unified we are, the better. In terms of international cooperation for development in particular, there are a lot of discrepancies. With the exception of Honduras and Nicaragua, most of the Central American countries are middle-income. This is a categorization that we fight in every forum, as it is an unjust and obsolete criterion with which to exclude from cooperation a large group of countries. Now, we have two giants before us; one is the climate change agreement and the other one is the 2030 agenda of sustainable goals. We really want to work in that direction with the cooperation of the international community, since we cannot do this all by ourselves. We have to be more innovative in terms of cooperation, not just giving money working together, sharing experiences, technical assistance, work on bilateral, regional and triangular cooperation, and in some cases money.

Why is Costa Rica unique place to do business and invest in the region?

Its human talent, without a doubt. You will find skillful, healthy people who learn quickly, are bilingual, and can learn other languages relatively easily. Corporate services is an area that is growing fast and is an indication that companies come here for human talent did have confidence in us. This does not mean that manufacturing and agriculture are not important; simply that we are a diversified economy and open for business. We have our problems and need to improve the situation by reducing bureaucracy and giving faster responses to the needs of the international and local investor community. We are working hard on that. We know that employment is a number one concern for everyone and if we do not create jobs and unemployment remains high, then there will be a high social price to pay, particularly for young people, rural areas, and women. What you will find in Costa Rica are people willing to do business with higher standards and to help foreigners, whether they are tourists or investors. Our goal is not to compete with cheap labor; which moved to other countries in the textiles industry a long time ago. What investors should rely on are the testimonies of other companies that have done business for many years in Costa Rica. Another indication of how much people trust Costa Rica is that companies keep growing and reinvesting in the country. It is a stable country from a political, economic, and social point of view.



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