GROWING OUTWARDS

Costa Rica 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas, President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, on the expansion of trade between the two countries and where more potential for further strengthening these connections lies.

Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas
BIOGRAPHY
Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas is a Uruguayan politician who served as president of Uruguay from 2005 to 2010 and was elected to a second term in November 2014. Vázquez graduated from the medical school of the University of the Republic, Montevideo, in 1972 with a specialty in oncology and radiology. He entered private practice as an oncologist and built a reputation as one of the premier physicians in the country. Vázquez served as director of the University of the Republic medical school’s department of radiology. He also founded the first medical clinic in his childhood neighbourhood of Las Teja. Vázquez further raised his public profile as president (1978–89) of the Club Progreso, an association football team.

In October 2015, the Uruguay-Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce was inaugurated to increase the trade flow between the two countries, create investment, and intensify cultural exchange. In which areas do you believe relations between the two countries can be enhanced?

The creation of the chamber was a step in the right direction toward sealing an ever-closer relationship between two growing countries. Trade relations between Uruguay and Costa Rica over the last 13 years have followed a positive trend, and we are happy that Costa Ricans increasingly choose the products that Uruguay exports. Exports from Uruguay to Costa Rica grew by an average of 28% between 2003 and 2015, and imports increased, to a somewhat lesser extent, by 18%. Trade between Uruguay and Costa Rica still has a lot of potential. Uruguayan exports were about USD17 million in 2015, while imports were USD4.7 million. The main products that Uruguay currently exports are food, beverage concentrates, and pharmaceuticals; meanwhile, medical equipment, boxes, and telephones were imported from Costa Rica. It is important to mention that between the two economies there are areas that have not yet been exploited. In this regard, in the food and beverages sector, where Uruguay is an exporter of quality products, Costa Rica is a market with potential, especially in the fruit, beef, dairy products, cheeses, and other foodstuffs. There are also opportunities in substances and chemical products for human and animal medicines. In order to deepen the flow of exports to Costa Rica, in 2016 Uruguay XXI was established to bring Uruguayan exporters together. In addition to our excellent diplomatic relations, in July 2016 the agency for the promotion of exports and investments, Uruguay XXI, organized a workshop to access this market. We believe that Costa Rica, which has an excellent position in the "Doing Business" ranking of the World Bank, is an excellent door to enter a significant expanded market through its agreements in Central America and North America. In 2016, a business delegation and a prospective study were conducted with Uruguayan businessmen who held meetings with the competent authorities in tax regulation, intellectual and industrial property, and food registration. In the private sector, they conducted studies with lawyers, chambers of importers, and other people who have experience working with Uruguayan exporters, and sectorial chambers such as textiles and pharmaceuticals. These regular business visits are important because companies in both countries can explore real business opportunities. Uruguay XXI and the Chamber of Commerce of Costa Rica coordinated the meetings. With respect to possible investments, both Uruguay and Costa Rica are important recipients of FDI. In the last decade, FDI accounted for 5.2% of GDP in Uruguay and 5.9% in Costa Rica.

Looking to the future, how do you visualize the evolution of relations between Uruguay and Central America, especially Costa Rica?

There is much room for growth in economic and investment relations between Uruguay and Central America. In terms of investments, we are both net recipients of FDI. Given the similar size of our economies, they are interesting markets. Companies from each country can settle with scale operations similar to their domestic activities. In particular, relations between Uruguay and Costa Rica have even more potential, as it is one of the countries of Central America, along with Panama, that have the greatest economic dynamism. These cultural, political, and economic affinities, coupled with an approach of openness to trade and investment, are a relevant starting point for generating opportunities for exchange in all areas in the years to come.