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Chinchilla talks trade on EU visit

From the print edition

President Laura Chinchilla and several members of her Cabinet traveled to Europe last Sunday. The two-week journey ends next Thursday and features stops in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Vatican.

Chinchilla hopes to accomplish two primary goals: to strengthen ties between Costa Rica and Europe to promote investment, and to help reach an agreement between Central America and the European Union (EU) that would promote trade between the regions.

What did Chinchilla do in Paris?

One of the objectives of her agenda is to put “Costa Rica on the radar of potential investors” in Europe. She spoke to business directors in Paris about Costa Rica’s success in high-technology production, medical devices and the service sector. The president touted her goal to attract up to 35,000 additional French tourists to Costa Rica annually. She was accompanied by Foreign Trade Minister Anabel González and Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo.

Chinchilla also reaffirmed the country’s intentions of joining the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). She spoke at an OECD forum called “A Better Quality of Life 2.0.” 

What happened in Germany?

Chinchilla’s party arrived in Berlin on Tuesday night. A caravan of seven cars and 14 transit officials greeted the entourage, according to the daily La Nación. She spent the night near the monument to the historic divide between East and West Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate.

The following day, Chinchilla met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Guack. In her meeting with Guack, she thanked him for helping Europe sustain itself during the current economic crisis, although for several major countries in the western world, Germany’s austerity policy is becoming less popular, as members of the EU push for growth over belt-tightening. 

The friendly conversation between Guack and Chinchilla touched on the countries’ goal to curb climate change and cooperate better in the future on development and environmental issues.

The meeting with Merkel, the official head of state, was more intense. Chinchilla told La Nación that she and Merkel spoke for just 35 minutes. Merkel “was very interested in our vision for what’s happening in Latin American and also Europe.” She referred to ties in politics, culture and business investment. 

Chinchilla also met with other green-energy innovators in Germany on Thursday.

Were there any surprises?

Yes, but not due to the protest over conservationist Paul Watson’s arrest (see story, Page 1), which some thought would disrupt the president’s agenda. Costa Rica is trying to extradite the environmentalist from Germany to face charges of attempted shipwrecking and endangerment at sea dating back to 2002.

However, what caught the president off-guard were questions from a Costa Rican man in Berlin. Ticos in the German capital were invited to listen to Chinchilla’s talk on “Costa Rica: Towards a green, prosperous and innovative democracy.” After she finished her speech, Andrés Figueroa questioned Chinchilla about whether Costa Rica is only prosperous “if you’re white, heterosexual and Catholic.”

The president responded that Costa Rica has some of the most progressive civil and cultural rights laws in the region, and that the issue of gay marriage is up to the Legislative Assembly.

Is there a Costa Rica-EU agreement?

Chinchilla is firming up a partnership agreement between Central America and the EU. The deal would allow for the elimination of tariffs on some products, among other trade benefits. Central American heads of state will sign the agreement on June 29 in a meeting with EU leaders in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Then, the treaty will need approval by Costa Rica’s Congress in order for the deal to be activated in Costa Rica.

Foreign Trade Minister González hopes to have the agreement passed no later than January 2013.

What does Chinchilla have planned for next week?

The highlight will be the president’s meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday morning. Chinchilla also will meet with other Vatican officials to discuss canonical issues such as Catholic education in public schools and organization of the church. Other agenda items next week include: 

• Meeting with UNESCO to discuss recognizing Costa Rica’s stone spheres of Díquis as a world heritage item. 

• Stopping in Rome to visit the Italian-Latin America Institute and talk on green energy.

• Discussing labor matters in Switzerland.

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