A STEADY SHIP

Costa Rica 2017 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW

Costa Rica has established a strong network of foreign relations and seeks to continue to develop ties around the world, especial in the Far East, with China playing a pivotal role in the country's development.

Costa Rica is quite unique when it comes to Latin America, and in many cases beyond. Most notably, it is one of the few countries in the world to not have a professional army. Former President José Figueres Ferrer abolished it after the end of its civil war in 1948, bringing in an era of peace and prosperity for the country. The country has managed to avoid much of the civil troubles that have blighted many of its neighbors to the north and south.

Costa Rica is also one of the few countries that has run for a significant period of time 100% on renewable energy. It ran for 76 days straight between June and August 2016. These, as well as a number of other factors, have allowed the country to focus on what it feels is important: education, healthcare, and the welfare of its people. To this end, governments of Costa Rica have signed a number of trade agreements to help fulfill its goals. These include entering DR-CAFTA and CARICOM as well as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Costa Rica has been a member of the WTO since 1995 and a part of the CACM Customs Union since the 1960s. On top of these, the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with countries such as Peru, Canada, Colombia, China, and Singapore as well as a number of multilateral agreements with countries across Central and South America. The government is by no means resting on its laurels and plans are afoot to continue expanding its trade and diplomatic links, especially in the Middle and Far East. “Something we are pushing for strongly this year is new destination for our diplomatic relationships. Central Asia is one area that we have explored," explained the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Manuel Antonio Gonzalez, in a recent interview with TBY. He went on to say, “I visited Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in October 2015. It was the first time, and it was the start of a good relationship. Azerbaijan is going to open an embassy here and we are going to have an embassy in Azerbaijan. Another region we want to expand in is the Gulf. We have an embassy in Qatar, but we would like more, such as in the Emirates."

OLD FRIENDS

As well as creating new ties, the government is looking to cement old relations. 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China. The Costa Rican government sees Asia as a prime location for promoting the country's economy and developing trade agreements. In the 10 years that China and Costa Rica have been working together, things have moved along as quite a rapid pace. Chinese investment in the country has grown significantly with a number of new projects getting off the ground. One of the focal points of these relations is the new National Stadium built in San José. The 35,000 capacity ground cost an estimated USD100 million and was fully covered by Chinese investment. Anhui Foreign Economic Construction, a China-based firm, was charged with the project and it was completed in 2011. Other projects the Chinese have been involved in are the building of one the region's largest and best police academies as well as a major highway linking San José with the Caribbean Coast. China has played a key role in the development of the Costa Rica's economy and infrastructure, something that looks set to continue. Ties with China are set to strengthen further as the two work together to develop and enhance Costa Rica's economic free zones. In 2015, China and Costa Rica signed a partnership to discuss the creation of special economic zones in Costa Rica to help Chinese companies avoid the infamous “logjam" that can be Costa Rican bureaucracy when it comes to approving permits and other paperwork. The new zone will aim at putting the country back at the forefront of high-tech development and manufacturing, with a special focus on cars and renewable energy equipment. The creation of such zones will come as welcome news to the skilled engineers and workers of the country, especially after Intel, the US-based processing manufacturing, announced the closure of its plant in the country. The plant employed 1,500 workers and accounted for 20% of the country's exports. Chinese companies will see Costa Rica as a “beachhead" for Latin America. Once they have established operations in the country, they will be able to use its advantageous location and political and economic stability as a base to move further into the continent and across into the Caribbean. Likewise, the zones will be used to expedite exports to China, especially food exports. Through the two countries FTA, Costa Rica currently exports coffee, bananas, pork, and langostines to China.

STABILTY BRINGS RESPONSIBILITY

bility is rare among its neighbors, as such the country has become a destination for refugees fleeing violence, often associated with drug cartels, in the neighboring countries. In 2016, asylum claims looked set to quadruple compared to 2014 levels as Mexico and the US enforce stricter immigration and asylum rules. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled their homes over the years from the “Northern Triangle" countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala as criminal gangs increasingly target the civilian population. While Belize and Panama have also seen an increase in migration and some still head north, Costa Rica is seen a viable and attractive alternative. Sensing this change in the flow of migrants and realizing its social reasonability to the region, the governments of the US and Costa established the Protection Transfer Agreement (PTA), which will help protect refugees fleeing violence from the Northern Triangle. Under the new program, Costa Rica will accept up to 200 prescreened refugees for up to six months as their US asylum application is processed. While it is still quite a small number compared to the number of migrants on the move, it represents a significant shift in the mentality of how refugees should be dealt with, especially ones seen as primarily economic migrants and not qualified for refugee status. The PTA is the first time in modern history that a Latin America country will house refugees during the process for another country. The UN's International Organization for Migration will cover the costs of the program. The PTA comes at an important time, as Nicaragua imposed a crackdown on refugees entering the country, which stranded 8,000 US-bound Cubans on the border between the Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In response, the government of Costa Rica offered to house and shelter the migrants while brokered and agreement with its neighbors to airlift them out. As well as the Cubans, Costa Rica also promised safe passage to 2,000 extra-continental migrants, mainly from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, as well as applications for asylum and shelter throughout the country. Costa Rica now sees itself as a champion, of sorts, of the refugees and migrants and has taken a welcoming stance in an effort to protect the vulnerable.