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President’s Visit to China Pays Off

China is writing Costa Rica a check for $20 million, money that President Oscar Arias has said will go toward flood relief in the damaged regions of the country after last week’s heavy rains.

That was only one of several announcements that were the fruit of Arias’ long-anticipated trip to visit the Asian giant for the first time since Costa Rica switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in June (TT, June 8).

In addition to the $20 million in cash, China has pledged another $27 million in “technical and economic cooperation that will be assigned to different projects,” according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.

A spokesman there had no details on what that cooperation might involve.

In the past there has been speculation that China would confirm the purchase of a large amount of Costa Rican debt during Arias’ visit, but no word of such assistance had surfaced as of press time.

The daily La Nación cited Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz – in China with Arias – as saying that a purchase of Costa Rican bonds might happen at the beginning of next year.

Also coming out of Arias’ visit this week were announcements that the two countries had agreed to speed up the process of looking into the possibility of a free-trade agreement.

“Certainly now China is going to show greater interest in Costa Rica than what it showed before establishing diplomatic relations, and certainly Costa Rican businesspeople will want to conquer that import and export market,” the statement quoted Arias as saying.

Other important agreements during the diplomatic mission include the signing of an accord between the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to look into partnering up on the expansion of the RECOPE refinery in the Caribbean port of Moín.

The two countries are also working on sanitary standards for agriculture products that will allow for greater trade in that area.

During the visit, Arias talked with China’s head of state Hu Jintao in a one-on one meeting. Later they sat down with the full Costa Rican delegation, which included Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, Presidential Minister Rodrigo Arias, Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz and Costa Rican Ambassador to China Antonio Burgués to discuss the two countries’ bilateral relations.

The trip hasn’t been all business. On the first visit made to China by a Costa Rican head of state, Arias also took the time to visit the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China, although at the latter location Arias had to stay behind as his injured Achilles tendon was acting up, according to daily Diario Extra.

Arias arrived in China Monday and will return to Costa Rica Sunday.

Coinciding with his diplomatic visit, 60 Costa Rican companies traveled to the trade fair in Canton, China, this week to look into doing business there selling products such as tilapia, shrimp, coffee and bananas.

So far, the Costa Rican companies have pulled down $140 million in export contracts, according to the Foreign Trade Ministry.

China is already Costa Rica’s second largest trade partner, after the United States.

In 2006 exports to China topped $1 billion – mostly from electronics products produced at the Intel factory – and imports were at $618 million. This year, exports to China have already matched those of last year. Costa Rica exported more than $1 billion to China in the first nine months of 2007, marking a 31% growth that mostly came from the electronics sector.



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