STRETCHING OUT

Costa Rica 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Manuel Antonio González Sanz, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, on what the ministry hopes to achieve before the end of its term and the government's stance on the Pacific Alliance.

Manuel Antonio González Sanz
BIOGRAPHY
Manuel Antonio González Sanz was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2014. He was 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. Minister González 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.

In which areas is the ministry focusing for 2016?

We have a busy agenda because the international community is becoming more and more complex every day, particularly in terms of terrorism, immigration, drug trafficking, and climate change, as well as subchapters of all these topics and many others. One of the things we have promoted in this administration, is an institutional reform as well. We want to be more effective, more efficient, and more transparent as a whole in the government. Another thing we are pushing for strongly in 2017 is new destinations for our diplomatic relationships. Central Asia is one area that we have explored. I visited Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in October 2015, which was the first time ever for Costa Rica and represents the start of a good relationship. Azerbaijan is going to open an embassy here and we are planning 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, like in the United Arab Emirates. Another destination we have been working on is Brunei. Many things are going on; we are trying to promote new destinations and not just work on the multilateral level, but to create the possibility of investments and trade.

What is your position on the Pacific Alliance?

The Pacific Alliance is not only about trade; it involves many other aspects: visas, cooperation, integration of stock exchanges, and so on. Trade is one of the main and most controversial pillars. When we arrived to office, there was not much clarity on what the previous administration had done except announce that we were candidates to enter the Alliance. Therefore, we needed to go into the process of scouting and finding information. There are still some sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, but they always complain about everything related to FTAs. There are structural problems that need to be addressed with or without the alliance. One barrier to the signing of the Pacific Alliance is the structure of our congress. We have nine parties and the government only has 13 members out of 57, which makes it difficult to get anything through congress. We need to think about what is more important: fiscal reforms or the Pacific Alliance.

How would you assess bilateral relations between Costa Rica and the Caribbean region, and what areas of bilateral trade have the most potential for growth?

Central America and the Caribbean region should be like a domestic market, because our market is too small. Our trade relations with Central America are active. We have about USD1 billion trade with Guatemala and around USD800 million with Nicaragua. The Central American common market has existed since the 1960s. Infrastructure in the region needs improving, and we are working on that. With the Caribbean, we have an FTA that was approved by our congress in 2004. Unfortunately, many countries in the Caribbean are still to ratify the agreement. The agreement would be good for our SMEs, but it would be a fantasy to say that SMEs are going to export to the US overnight' we need the Central American experience.

What are your priorities and targets as minister for the next year?

We will see what the world brings. We have an expectation of opening an embassy in Indonesia, which so many people call the seat of ASEAN. We will open the embassy in Azerbaijan in 2017 and Costa Rica will continue to be active multilaterally, particularly in the UN and OAS. We have only 47 embassies around the world and five of them are multilateral while, for example Cuba has 140 and Turkey about the same. We have to be more efficient at the multilateral level.