(Third in a series on presidential candidates’ positions on the economy, business and trade.)COSTA Rica should be exporting strawberry jelly instead of strawberries, producing bed sheets instead of importing them, and educating forest engineers instead of doctors, according to Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) presidential candidate Ricardo Toledo.Increased investment in research, technical training and infrastructure are fundamental for Costa Rica to reduce unemployment and benefit from free trade and foreign investment, Toledo told a recent meeting of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).But while Toledo said Costa Rica needs real change, he often sounded like the ruling-party candidate that he is, promoting an agenda similar to that of President Abel Pacheco.TOLEDO stressed that his policies on business and trade will be based on advancing social progress for Costa Rica.“The best economic policy includes social policies, and the best social policy includes economic policies,” he said. “A woman is living with her four children under a bridge. She goes and qualifies for aid… she is awarded a house, six meters by six meters. Do you think this is taking the woman out of poverty? This woman now has to pay for her water; before, she got it free from the river. She now has to pay for light; before, it came from the street lamp… This isn’t taking her out of poverty.”The candidate and legislator advocates expanding the National Training Institute (INA) to provide opportunities for more people living in poverty. Instead of giving them a monthly aid check, give them training to meet requirements of jobs that are available, he said.“We cannot have people in (the northwestern province of) Guanacaste needing jobs when… the tourism sector has 25,000 posts it needs filled,” he said. Furthermore, Toledo called it an “injustice” that funds budgeted for certain aid programs are never spent, and millions of dollars sit unused in ministry coffers. INA can also play a key role in providing technical training, an area that many Costa Ricans have begun to undervalue in the search for professional training, according to Toledo.“Everyone in Costa Rica wants to be a lawyer or an engineer, and yet a chef trained by INA makes more money than a civil engineer,” he said. “It is not possible for a country to move forward without developing this kind of technical training… Our universities are creating professionals in careers where… there are no jobs.” Furthermore, Toledo said job creation can be promoted by increasing local investment in the agro-industrial sector.“It is not the same to export strawberries as to export honey-sweetened strawberry candies,” he said.Production of the latter creates more jobs, as does the research and development needed to create such products, Toledo explained; investment in science and technology as a whole is fundamental.“We need to build a society of knowledge.We are exporting chayote squash and bananas, but we are importing the knowhow, the patents” needed to produce other products, the candidate said.TOLEDO also believes poverty can be reduced and opportunities created through increasing support for micro and small businesses. More Costa Ricans can take advantage of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) if relationships are developed between small businesses and larger corporations, Toledo said.“It is not possible that hotels in Papagayo (a Guanacaste tourism project) buy sheets from abroad… when we can produce them here perfectly well,” he said. “We have to develop linkages to take advantage of the big companies here.”Toledo said he supports CAFTA and other free-trade agreements, but regardless of their fate in Costa Rica, he demands the opening of the country’s state monopolies in telecommunications and insurance, as stipulated under CAFTA. LIKE President Pacheco, whom Toledo served for a time as Minister of the Presidency, the candidate supports the Permanent Fiscal Reform Package to increase Costa Rica’s available resources.However, he said changes to the tax system must be accompanied by stronger punishments for tax evasion.As a legislator, the candidate is also pushing a bill that would allow the government’s public pension funds to be invested in infrastructure projects.As a result of lack of investment opportunities in the country, public Banco Nacional and other pension-fund administrators are investing in Costa Rican government and U.S. Treasury bonds, which offer low yields. Instead, Costa Rica should be using this capital to fund its own infrastructure, Toledo said – adding that doing this would allow investors to obtain greater revenues while reducing the country’s infrastructure deficit.Toledo also advocates the creation of a National Tourism Council with representatives from various ministries and tourism organizations. This would streamline the permit process for tourism development projects, he explained.AMCHAM will host National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Oscar Arias Oct. 26 and Union for Change candidate Antonio Álvarez Desanti at a date to be determined. Libertarian candidate Otto Guevara and Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís have already addressed the group (TT, Sept. 9, Oct. 14). For more information, call 220-2200.
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