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Business leaders form new U.K.-Tico Chamber

From the print edition

Sharon Campbell began hosting breakfasts at her residence with British business leaders in Costa Rica in August 2011. The social gatherings intended to understand the needs of the local business community.

The British company owners met regularly with Campbell, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Costa Rica, to talk over meals of English sausage or Costa Rican gallo pinto. 

A little more than six months after the breakfast get-togethers started, the group turned out one of its original goals. On Thursday, U.K. business owners and Tico leaders joined the embassy in inaugurating the United Kingdom-Costa Rica Chamber of Commerce.

“I think this is pretty spectacular progress in terms of the initial discussions that we had with the companies to actually be in a position that we can launch the chamber, and sign the documents,” Campbell said during an interview with The Tico Times on Tuesday. 

The 15 founding businesses include British Motors, Volcafé, British American Tobacco Company, security company GS4 and the Poás Volcano Lodge. Membership will be available to anyone interested in business matters between the two countries. 

The chamber gives British industry leaders a unified voice for business matters in the country when they lobby government ministries in Costa Rica or back home.

Kenneth Waugh, director of Volcafé, the coffee division of London-based ED&F Man, said interest in forming a chamber has ebbed and flowed throughout the years. An influx of U.K. businesses in recent years made the initiative a popular idea again. The meetings at the ambassador’s residence solidified that proposal.

“We were understanding that we all have the same problems, we all have the same goals,” said Waugh, whose company ships a third of Costa Rica’s coffee exports. “And we were discussing what is the best way to go forward and find a solution for them.”

The chamber’s key points of emphasis will be on protecting investment for British businesses in Costa Rica and making it easy for U.K. citizens to start up an enterprise here. Other significant issues include bilateral agreements, taxes and representing local interests in multinational companies.

Organization leaders see ample benefits for Costa Ricans. Campbell cited the U.K.’s expertise in the creative sector, environmental sector and in education as areas British businesses can aid Costa Rican institutions. The U.K. is an industry leader in low-carbon products and in reducing carbon footprints. The country also can help outmoded classrooms in Costa Rica take on new technology and courses.

In the creative division, Campbell referenced Vitec, a video company with a main plant in Costa Rica, which recently announced plans to double its manufacturing capacity in the country. 

Luisa Pastor, director of U.K. Trade and Investment, said Vitec builds state-of-the-art equipment for clients like Hollywood producers and National Geographic documentary filmmakers. Teaching the Costa Rican workforce how to build cutting-edge technology can have far-reaching effects in the country’s own growing audiovisual and film industry.

“[Vitec] has machines nobody else has in this country,” Pastor said. “So they need to start by showing Costa Ricans how to use those machines.”

 The announcement of the chamber coincides with a greater push to strengthen relations between the U.K. and Latin America. British minister of state at the Foreign Office, Jeremy Browne, visited Costa Rica for the first time last October during a goodwill tour of Latin America (TT, Oct. 28).

In addition, Campbell said more foreign-run businesses seem to be looking for more alliances and coherency in the Costa Rican business world. She mentioned that earlier this year the Dominican Republic formed its own business chamber. A short while later the U.K. accomplished a similar achievement.

“There’s clearly a sense of moment here in Costa Rica that companies want to group together, want to form chambers,” Campbell said. “They see that there are opportunities here, but [they] want to work as a collective.”

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