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Costa Rica’s Solís travels to Canada to woo investors as strike continues

October 27, 2014

An ongoing strike in the Caribbean port city of Limón hasn’t kept President Luis Guillermo Solís from traveling to Canada Sunday to drum up foreign investment from a country that has largely overlooked Costa Rica. The president has a difficult backdrop to the pro-business narrative he planed to tell on this trip as the longshoremen strike enters its sixth day and seven former public officials go on trial for corruption in a canceled gold mining concession to a Canadian company on Monday.

Solís and his delegation will meet with some 100 potential Canadian investors and business representatives who already have operations in Costa Rica, in several meetings Monday in Toronto. The Costa Rica Investment Agency, CINDE, targeted possible investors in clean technology, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, agro-industrial, and light manufacturing. On Tuesday, Solís will speak at the Toronto Global Forum to some 400 business representatives from Canada and the United States.

The president is accompanied by Foreign Trade Minister Alexander Mora, Foreign Minister Manuel González and CINDE General Director Jorge Sequeria. The delegation is joined by representatives from the Union of Private-Sector Chambers and Associations, including its vice president, Víctor Ruiz.

“I’m convinced that the resources that come from foreign investment reflect the interest and belief of these companies in Costa Rica’s human talent, the spectacular conditions that our country has to move forward, and also in the incentives we offer investors,” Solís said.

“This is why we need to respect contracts, why we need to guarantee the legality of contracts, like the case of APM Terminals in Moín,” Solís continued, anticipating how the strike might play abroad. “Without this guarantee, it’s impossible to convince these businesses that we are a serious country,” he added.

“Costa Rica doesn’t need violence, it needs jobs; not to block the port but to open the country to more possibilities,” Solís said to applause at the Lito Pérez Stadium in Puntarenas on Sunday.

“We have a relationship with a lot of potential for growth in the areas of commerce and investment. Only in the last five years, Canadian investment has totaled $173 million,” Mora said, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.

That $173 million lagged behind investment from Costa Rica’s larger trading partners. In 2013, Canada invested only $41.9 million in Costa Rica, significantly less than the United States ($1.24 billion) and Mexico ($132 million), according to figures from the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX). Costa Rica and Canada have had a free trade agreement since 2002.

The Canadian mining company Infinito Gold, however, has been arguing that Costa Rica violated the terms of that agreement when it annulled its concession for a gold mine. The government and the company have been embroiled in a conflict over the Crucitas gold mine since in 2010. Infinito filed a Request for Arbitration with the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes seeking $94 million in damages from the Costa Rican government.

Former President Óscar Arias’ (2006-2010) Environment Minister Roberto Dobles and six other public officials go on trial Monday for an alleged conflict of interest in granting the concession. If found guilty, the defendants could face between two and six years in prison.

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