Papagayo, GUANACASTE – President Oscar Arias is wooing the Arab nation of Qatar, the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas, hoping to attract investments in technology, science and economic initiatives in Costa Rica.
Arias is also moving forward with plans to build an embassy in Doha, Qatar, despite closing three embassies due to financial reasons less than a year ago.
“It’s a new window we are opening for the Arab world … with a country that is very wealthy and with a personal friend of mine and a friend of Costa Rica,” Arias said. “If we don’t have an embassy in the Arab world, it could be very difficult to solidify certain investments.”
The decision was sparked by a visit from the country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who made a stop on Monday at Guanacaste’s Four Seasons Resort as part of a Latin American tour that included Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil.
Al-Thani’s minister of cooperation and acting business and commerce minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, told The Tico Times that the emir visited Costa Rica because of his friendship with Arias.
“Our emir always gives human relations a priority over any business,” he said. Though the Qataris have agreed to study investments in tourism and housing, al-Attiyah said he regretted that Monday’s conversation didn’t include oil exploration.
“Costa Rica has potential but, because the country is pronounced ‘green’,” he said, holding his fingers up to signal that “green” should be in quotation marks, “it would be very difficult (to get permits) for exploration.”
After an hour-long meeting behind closed doors, Arias and Al-Thani signed a series of agreements promoting cooperation between their countries and providing protection for investors under certain circumstances in the areas of expropriation, repatriation and currency convertibility, meaning investors may be protected against certain types of government action.
A Qatari mission will stay behind to study investments in public housing and agriculture and, more specifically, in the further development of Peninsula Papagayo. The Qataris also announced their country will open an embassy in San José.
“We don’t have investments from the Arab world,” Arias said. “We think it’s a front that we need to open. They know a lot about Costa Rica – that it’s a small, democratic country, a stable country, with an independent judicial system” and that Costa Rica can offer them certain guarantees.
Al-Thani’s was the first visit to Costa Rica of a head of state from any Arab country. He stayed only a few hours before heading back to Qatar.
“Qatar has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. It has many resources, and it is undertaking foreign investment. We don’t want to let this opportunity (to form a relationship with them) pass … However, this is a friendship that moves forward in stages. We are writing its first chapters.”
“We are presenting (to Qatar) our accomplishments in tourism to date, but we are also presenting the (potential) successes Qatar could have if it decides to invest in tourism projects in our country. We are talking about (an investment) in high-end tourism.”
“What we are looking for are the best guarantees of protection for investments from Qatar in Costa Rica. We are presenting them with an overview of investment opportunities in diverse sectors … in housing, telecommunication , various energy projects and public works, such as roads and ports.
Marco Vinicio Ruiz,
Foreign Trade Minister
“One might think that the ideal place to open an embassy is in the wealthiest, largest country, which is Saudi Arabia. But what happened is I have a friendship with the emir of Qatar …If we are going to open an embassy in the Arab world, it’s best to do it with a friendly country.”
President of Costa Rica
“We don’t have a dollar figure of how much we want to invest in Costa Rica. If the opportunity comes, then we will study the economics of each project. We are interested in agriculture. We are looking at some of the concessionary land … (and a) railway, hydropower station, public housing.”
Khalid bin Mohammed Al
Attiyah, Minister of State for
International Cooperation for Qatar