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President Solís calls for more trade, not just handouts from China

January 5, 2015

President Luis Guillermo Solís called for a substantive shift in Costa Rica’s relationship with China seven years after the Central American country opened diplomatic relations with the world’s second-largest economy, according to an audio statement recorded in Beijing Monday evening local time.

“[Costa Rica wants] a political exchange that is deep and sincere, but also has results in the medium and long term beyond immediate gestures, like police cars, soccer balls or a beautiful stadium, like the National Stadium,” Solís said, referring to the 35,000-seat $100 million stadium and 450 police cars China donated.

“Seven years is a short time, [but] it’s time to change the dynamic of this relationship,” the president said, hours before his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Solís said he wants to see the Costa Rican and Chinese economy more closely linked, listing special economic zones, infrastructure investment, technology sharing, and greater educational and cultural exchanges as some of his goals for the future of the relationship.

These goals are lofty when compared to the current trade relationship between the small, peace-loving country and the ascendent superpower. Foreign Trade Minister Alexander Mora acknowledged in a recent interview with The Tico Times that much work is needed on both sides of the relationship in order to create greater investment and economic opportunity. According to the Foreign Trade Ministry’s 2013 figures — the most recent year available at the time this article was published — China invested just $6.1 million in Costa Rica that year, less than Guatemala, which invested $8.2 million. More than $1.2 billion in foreign investment flowed into Costa Rica from the United States in 2013.

Following the global financial crisis of 2008, Costa Rican exports to China plummeted, while Chinese imports continued to make strong inroads in Tico markets, leading to a significant trade imbalance.

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Costa Rica is the only country in Central America that formally recognizes the People’s Republic of China instead of the Republic of China in Taiwan. Former President Óscar Arias (1986-1990, 2006-2010) established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 2007.

This is the second time the two world leaders have met since Solís took office in May 2014. The Costa Rican leader previously met briefly with Xi during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States-China meeting in Brazil last year.

“Costa Rica wants its relationship with China to be holistic, strategic, and constructive, which ranges from local issues for Costa Rica to the global, recognizing the important role that China plays in the world today,” Solís said, “Costa Rica wants more.”

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