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‘President Moon Jae well known in Costa Rica amid high expectations for increased bilateral cooperation, exchanges’An exclusive interview with Ambassador Rodolfo Solano Quiros of Costa Rica in Seoul

Ambassador Rodolfo Solano Quiros of Costa Rica in Seoul, said that President Moon Jae-in is very well known in Costa Rica for his active involvement in the promotion of relations and cooperation between Korea and Costa on various occasions, especially in the course of the official state visit of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun to Costa Rica in 2005.

President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica

Speaking at an exclusive interview with The Korea Post media on June 22, 2017 conducted by Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of the media, Ambassador Solano Quiros stated that there was much room for substantially increased cooperation and exchange between the two countries in the economic, trade and various other areas. Details of the interview follow:

Photo shows the then President Roh Moo-hyun (second from left) and his counterpart, President Abel Pacheco of Costa Rica (third from left), during President Roh’s visit to Costa Rica on Sept. 12, 2005. Mrs. Roh is seen at far left and Mrs. Pacheco on the right.

Question: President Moon Jae-in has recently won an 84% support from the Korean people, highest among all Presidents of the Republic of Korea so far. What is your view on this?

Answer: President Moon Jae-in is very well-known in Costa Rica. He was involved in organizing a visit of the former President Roh Moo-hyun to our country in 2005. At that time President Moon was the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs and he had a close interaction with the diplomatic circles in Korea. We hope that President Moon will continue the unofficial tradition of Korean Presidents to visit South America every five years and promote closer relationship between Korea and Latin American countries. There will be plenty of opportunities for that. Next year there will be a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. If President Moon visits Argentina, we hope he will also stop by Central America. Also in 2019 APEC will be held in Chile. So we really hope that Korea will become closer to Latin America and Costa Rica in particular.

Costa Rica is recognized for its historical, strong and solid democratic tradition. That is why the promotion of democratic values is a pillar of our foreign policy. In this regard, we celebrate and congratulate the free, peaceful, and participatory democratic process that the Korean people lived on May 9 and resulted in the election of President Moon Jae-in. Korea's legal and democratic institutional framework has been strengthened, and the election of President Moon, as a result of free and democratic elections, is a great example of what Korea is all about. As President Moon said: "I will make a just, united country, and I will be a President who also serves all the people who did not support me.¨ Those words expressed firmly that Korea will continue to exercise fundamental leadership in the multilateral arena and that this electoral process reaffirms that moral authority of the Korean people and the government for the promotion and defense of universal values. Korea is stronger now than before in terms of democracy, liberty, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and human rights. Korea has shown the whole world what real democracy is and how it works.

Ambassador Rodolfo Solano Quiros of Costa Rica in Seoul

Q: Also, do you have the view of your Head of Government on President Moon Jae-in and his new government?

A: The President of Costa Rica, H.E. Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera expressed his sincere congratulations to President Moon Jae-in and quoted that ¨the process carried out is without a doubt triumph for the democracy of the Republic of Korea.¨ Also, President Solis said that this year marks a milestone in the relations between our two nations, as this coming August 15th we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our fraternal nations. It is without a doubt that the institution of the new Comprehensive Cooperation Partnership, in 2016, between our two nations, has further strengthened our bilateral relations going forward. In the coming months we also anticipate with great motivation the future signing of the Free Trade Agreement between our two nations, an instrument that will allow for further exchange of commerce for the mutual benefit of our peoples.

We will continue to enhance the cooperation mechanisms between our countries, including the importance of a peaceful and nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, as we are bound by the same universal values and principles concerning with democracy, human rights, peace and regional security¨

Q: Diversification and expansion of trade and economic cooperation with different countries of the world are expected vis-à-vis was used to be centered on the United States, Japan and other such countries. What are the possibilities of expanded trade and economic cooperation between Korea and your country under the new government in Korea?

A: The Republic of Costa Rica is currently awaiting the formal signage of the Free Trade Agreement with the Republic of Korea, as the terms of negotiation have concluded satisfactorily for both parties. The expansion of trade possibilities and cooperation will no doubt increase many fold once the aforementioned agreement has been signed and ratified by the corresponding authorities. Currently, as both sides contemplate the dates for ratification, cooperation efforts in many areas, as a result of the expectation of the Free Trade Agreement, have already begun between the corresponding counterparts in both countries, in an effort to ease and increase commercial, economic and investment exchange in the coming months.

We have delegations coming from Korea to Costa Rica every month and from Costa Rica to Korea at least every two months. Next week the Vice Minister is coming, we have vast people-to-people exchange. So, as you see, we are pretty dynamic in this regard.

During last year’s visit our President inaugurated the opening of the Trade Promotion Office here in Korea. It is one the few Trade Promotion Offices for Costa Rica in Asia-Pacific Region. Main regional office is in Shanghai. We see Korea as a big potential partner and now with the coming FTA we believe that the volume of trade and investments will increase in the next coming months.

Next week we are going to have a Latin America business forum sponsored by the MOFA. This could also be a good opportunity for the Korean companies to get to know our market better.

Ambassador Rodolfo Solano Quiros of Costa Rica in Seoul is flanked on the left by Deputy Head of Mission David LI Fang of Costa Rica and Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media on the right at an exclusive interview on June 22, 2017.

Q: What are the major developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea?

A: President Luis Guillermo Solís last visited the Republic of Korea between on October 11-14, 2016. During his official visit, the traditional bilateral relations between both of our nations was elevated to a new Comprehensive Cooperation Partnership, where as a result, the exchange of visits between high ranking officials to our respective countries has increased in recent times. Together, with the Republic of Costa Rica’s geopolitical strategy to expand its relations with Asia Pacific, as well as the expectation of the signage of the Free Trade Agreement in the coming months will undoubtedly result in a higher volume of official visits between our two nations. Historically speaking, an exchange of visits between the head of governments between our nations have taken place during 5 year periods, however, with the new cooperative framework and momentum that both of our nations currently enjoy, a near future visit of the Head of Government of the Republic of Korea cannot be discarded.

Next year we have Presidential elections. In Costa Rica there is no possibility of consecutive re-election, so we are assuming that already the new President of Costa Rica will visit Korea and meet President Moon.

Costa Rica also has important milestones to come. In 2021 we will celebrate 200 years of Independence and in 2022 we are going to celebrate 60 years of establishment of the diplomatic relations with Korea. Our President came to Korea to attend the 50th Anniversary that was held in 2012. Sixty years is a very important celebration in Korea, as Korean people say, it is one life cycle. It is an important milestone for our bilateral relations and we hope that in the next years we will have plenty of opportunities for our countries to become even closer. I assume that our President has already extended the invitation for the President Moon to visit Costa Rica.

Q: What is the current volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?

A: The current trade volume between the Republic of Costa Rica and the Republic of Korea reached approximately $391 million US dollars (2015). The expectation is that the volume of exports and imports between our two nations will increase once the FTA is in effect. The main exports to the Republic of Korea currently consist on electrical components, specialized agricultural produce, biomedical devices and its derivatives. The Republic of Costa Rica imports a large volume of Korean vehicles, communication devices and its components, as well as large transport vehicles. Even though there is still such notion that Costa Rica only produces agricultural products like coffee, bananas and pineapples, main part of our export is technology, services, medical devices, etc. In fact, only 17% of our export falls on agricultural products. In 30 years we came from exporting four main products to 4,200 products being exported to 152 countries.

Q: What are your competitive fields of industry and products attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import?

A: In recent times, dating back to a couple of decades, the Republic of Costa Rica has strategized its exports, focusing its efforts on the diversification of its export products. Costa Rica has gone from a country that primarily exports 4 agricultural products to over 4,500 products up to date, to a network of over 100 countries world wide using a platform of 52 FTAs. Costa Rica now exports electrical components, biomedical devices, specialty coffee, organic and certified agricultural produce, among others. Of interest in Seoul, a Foreign Trade Promotion Office was inaugurated at the new premises of our Embassy in Seoul, in order to promote the exchange of commerce in the near future.

Q: Who are the Korean companies actively engaged in the promotion of economic cooperation between Korea and your esteemed country? (Please provide The Korea Post with a list of about 20 representative companies so that they could also be covered for further promotion of bilateral cooperation.)

A: Daewoo Bus, SAE-A Trading, EMart, Lotte, Posco, Maeil. Daewoo Bus and SAE-A Trading have already used the opportunities of the Costa Rica’s FTAs with other countries to export their goods to the US, Europe, Latin America and other regions.

Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your business companies to invest in Korea?

A: There is a wide array of investment possibilities in Costa Rica as its geographic location and its bountiful natural resources complemented by a stable democracy allows it to be at the forefront of investment destinations for foreign companies in Latin America. In recent times, there has been a high interest in Costa Rica’s biomedical and aerospace sectors, where Costa Rica boasts of high-quality human resource and capacity. Sustainable development and eco tourism is also a strong sector for future investors as Costa Rica has been looking to becoming more green and energy efficient, as evidenced by its 250-plus days of continuous usage in renewable energy. Costa Rican businesses look forward to partnering with Korean businesses in an effort to expand a wider market, where the natural resources that Costa Rica can offer would be a perfect match with Korea’s outstanding technological advances.

Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of your country in detail, including his major achievements. Please elaborate as President Moon and the New Government of the Republic of Korea are relatively less informed of the subject compared with their predecessors.

A: President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera is the 47th President of the Republic of Costa Rica. For over 30 years, he worked as a professor, researcher and academic manager at two of the main public universities in the country: the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the National University of Costa Rica (UNA). Throughout his career, he also worked as a consultant and has published numerous essays and books on national and current international affairs. Before being elected as President in 2014, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, where he actively cooperated in the negotiation and formulation of a peace plan in Central America (1986-1990) and served as ambassador for Central American Affairs and Director of Foreign Policy (1994-1998).

Amongst the major achievements of the Solis Rivera administration are: Economic growth and job creation; reduction of inequality and combat of poverty; and transparency. In 2016, Costa Rica scored 58 points in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the highest ever obtained by our nation, which ranked in position 41 along with Brunei and Spain. The economy of Costa Rica has also been increasing 3.6% year-on-year in April, according to the monthly index of economic activity (IMAE, Indice Mensual de Actividad Económica) calculated by the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR). Authorities are aiming an economic growth of 4.1% in both 2017 and 2018 and have highlighted the reduction of the fiscal deficit as a major accomplishment. Another key success underlined by the Administration is the payment of 55 percent of the government’s debt to the Social Security System. At the end of 2016, Costa Rica recorded the lowest poverty in seven years, with more than 10,000 households rising above the poverty line. The number of households in extreme poverty also fell for the first time since 2010.

Ambassador Solano Quiros of Costa Rica in Seoul expounds on the need for substantially increased cooperation and exchange between the two countries in the economic and various other areas.

Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?

A: Costa Rica is considered a top sustainable tourism destination and has won international recognition for its environmental conservation policies and long-standing efforts. By law, National Parks and Reserves cover, at present, 25.6% of our land area. These areas include islands and beaches, rain forests and dry, active volcanoes, hot springs, caves, river canyons and waterfalls. Further, 52.4% of our land is currently covered by forest, creating an ideal scenario for ecological tourism.

Costa Rica has furthered developed itself into a medical and wellness tourism hub, recognized for its state-of-the art medical technology, highly qualified medical professionals and 29 internationally accredited hospitals. The strategic location and economic and political stability of Costa Rica has furthered contribute to its growing reputation as a global medical tourism destination. Costa Rica was awarded the Best International Adventure Travel Award during the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) 2017 organized in Spain last January, and continues to be internationally recognized among the top best adventure destinations in the world.

Q: Please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.

A: I have been serving as Ambassador of Costa Rica in the Republic of Korea since January 2016. He also serves as non-resident Ambassador of Costa Rica to Brunei Darussalam and to Malaysia.

Prior positions include: Advisor to the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship (2014-2015), Minister Counselor of Costa Rica in Japan (2010-2013) and in the Republic of Korea (2002-2010).

Graduated in Business Administration from University of Costa Rica, he holds a degree in History from the University of North Florida, and a Masters in International Economic Relations and Foreign Trade, with a specialty in Asia Pacific Studies, from the University Latina Laureate International.

Q: Please add whatever other details that we might have left out from our questionnaire.

A: The year 2016 marked an important milestone in the development of bilateral relations between Korea and Costa Rica, especially in the political and economic fields. President Solís and the First Lady conducted a successful Official Visit to Korea last October, during which both nations agreed to elevate their diplomatic relations to a “Comprehensive Cooperation Partnership”. The aforementioned visit also established a joint path for both our countries for the coming years. As Costa Rica begins its preparations to towards the celebration of the 200 years of independent life in 2021, we have invited the Republic of Korea to share joys of celebration with closer ties and cooperation as 2021 also marks the commemoration of 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

We would like to avail ourselves of this opportunity to extend our congratulations to Her Excellency Ms. Kang Kyung-hwa on her new appointment as a Minister of Foreign Affairs of Korea. In Costa Rica we believe in gender equality and that is why ratio of the male-female positions in the Government have to be 50:50. With Ms. Kang’s appointment as a first female Minister we are happy to see that the principle of gender equality works in Korea as well.

This year, August 15th 2017, Costa Rica and Korea will commemorate 55 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations. On 15 September, Costa Rica will also celebrate 196 years of independent life.

Sean Kim  edt@koreapost.com

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