Jun. 22, 2016

Welmer Ramos

Costa Rica

Welmer Ramos

Minister of Economy, Industry and Commerce, Costa Rica

"Costa Rica is a country with almost three decades of continued and uninterrupted growth."


Welmer Ramos was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Commerce of Costa Rica in May 2014. Previously, he worked as Parliamentary Counselor in the Legislative Assembly and has more than 15 years of experience at the Costa Rican Central Bank.

The IMF predicted a 4.2% growth for Costa Rica in 2016. What are your expectations and which sectors will lead that growth?

Costa Rica is a country with almost three decades of continued and uninterrupted growth, which has led to a much more diversified economy in terms of the foreign markets that we export to and the portfolio of products and services that we export. We export over 2,000 products and in the last few years services and new technologies have gained a lot of momentum. In terms of services, in the last few years we have seen the establishment of service centers across the country in different economic sectors. We also have diversified and strong agribusiness exports. This diversification has allowed us to not suffer as much when prices of a certain commodity such as coffee drop. This diversification has also enabled us to not be as affected by the international crisis. Another of the strong features of our economy is that we have a strong domestic market, with people enjoying a relatively good consuming power, especially compared to the rest of the region. This helps us to cope with a slowdown in exports, as we saw last year due to certain challenges. The continued level of FDI that we have managed to attract over the years has been another core base of our growth in the last decades. We managed to attract larger volumes of foreign investment even in the first couple of years of the crisis between 2008 and 2009. Costa Rica enjoys a consolidated political, economic, and regulatory stability that makes our country an attractive destination for FDI. On top of that, we have register zero inflation for two consecutive years, we enjoy freedom and good capital flows, we have enjoyed internal peace for over 100 years, we have low violence rates, and the public and private sectors always look to create synergies and jointly develop the economy of Costa Rica. The country enjoys a well-established institutionalization that helps to attract foreign investment, which currently stands at 5% of total GDP. Overall, have created a consolidated and highly respected country thanks to the high levels of security, political stability, and economic development.

What are the sectors with the greatest potential to attract foreign investment?

The service sector is among those with the greatest potential in Costa Rica. In this context, the tourism industry should be particularly highlighted, as it has in itself a great deal to offer, such as beaches, ecotourism, gastronomy, mountain sports, and so on. This year we have seen a nearly 20% increase in the number of visitors. However, the northern region is leading this growth, accounting for 30% of the increase in tourist arrivals. We have attracted a lot of investments in high technologies due to the fact that we have a highly qualified and skillful workforce. The infrastructure sector can still play a more active role. This is due to the fact that the state cannot bring forward all the necessary projects because of the sector's complex legal framework. That has led to certain delays in catching up with infrastructure projects and the speed with which these kinds of projects are implemented. Costa Rica needs to invest in rail and road infrastructure. Additionally, the fishery industry and maritime logistics have not been fully exploited and still present a lot of potential. There is also room for improvement in the export of agricultural goods with greater added value. Costa Rica has attracted the investments of many companies who have relocated their businesses and call centers here. We offer a competitive regulatory and retribution package to these kinds of companies, and we have a competitive workforce to offer as well.

How can the country benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal?

We are close to Panama, and the expansion of the Canal is great news for us. We have maritime infrastructure such as the Moin Port, from where we can offer complementary services to the users of the Canal. Costa Rica can offer the logistics services that shipping companies need, which is why we aim to increase volumes to and from the Canal. Additionally, we also export to Asia and the US, so the expansion will positively contribute to our business activities. Therefore, the increase in capacity of the Canal will definitely bring an increase in volumes and business for our ports, especially for the Moin Port, where we are developing a megaport infrastructure, something that boosts the local economy and that of the entire country. With the development of our ports, we do not consider only maritime cargo, but also maritime tourism, as we will be able to better serve this industry with a more dynamic and specialized infrastructure. Panama is also a relevant business partner for us, so in a way there gain is also our gain.

What are the main efforts carried out by the government regarding green policies?

Over 50% of Costa Rica's consists of protected natural areas. Costa Rica is mainly made of volcanic soil, which is particularly fertile. We do not have deserts. We have prioritized the protection of our fertile land instead of promoting wood, mining, and other such large projects that could have brought us plenty of economic resources. Over the years, we developed a strategy of national parks and protected areas. We have always prioritized green policies and the protection of the environment, implementing energy policies based on renewables. This year we will achieve a surplus of energy generated from renewables. We have put a lot of effort into solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. At the same time, we promoted the use of renewable energies among the private sector. We also have nationwide plans for recycling plastics and paper, an effort in which the education sector is truly involved. We need to further invest in wastewater and solid waste treatment, which are two areas set to offer plenty of opportunities for private investors to collaborate with the state on the development of joint projects.

How does the Ministry work on attracting foreign investment to Costa Rica?

Costa Rica on its own is already attractive thanks to its political and security stability, as well as its privileged geographic position. Costa Rica enjoys highly valued bilateral relationships with many countries, and we are stable from a macroeconomic point of view. We also have the tools and conditions to attract foreign investment through free trade zones, the availability of qualified and skilled human resources, high quality education, and a strong network and strategy of promotion at the international level.