San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Qatar emir considers investment options in Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the fourth and final stop Monday on Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani´s tour through Latin America, in a visit that included Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil.

The visit – the first by an Arab head of state to this Central American country – is expected to bring Qatari investment in fields such as technology, science and the economy in Costa Rica.

“It´s a new window we are opening for the Arab world; with a country that is very wealthy and with a personal friend of mine and a friend of Costa Rica,” said Costa Rica President Oscar Arias.

Arias announced plans to open an embassy in Qatar capital Doha in the coming months. Qatar officials said they, too, would open an embassy in Costa Rica.

The decision to open an embassy in Doha comes less than a year after Arias closed three (in Bolivia, Paraguay and Czech Republic) due to financial reasons. Arias also closed consulates in Puerto Rico and in Chicago.

But Arias said an embassy in Qatar would encourage investments from Arab countries.

“We don´t have an embassy in the Arab world,” Arias said. “And they have interest in investing in tourism and in agriculture (here)… If we don´t have an embassy in the Arab world, it would be very difficult to solidify certain investments.”

Qatar, a small country of 1.5 million on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, is the world´s largest producer of liquefied natural gas and has the third largest gas reserve in the world, according to the U.S. State Department. The per-capita income in 2007 was $67,000, the fifth highest in the world.

“We don´t want to let this opportunity pass,” Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno told reporters before the meeting, which was held at the Four Seasons Resort in Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste. “This is significant.”

Asked why the Qataris chose Costa Rica, Stagno said the emirate is looking to diversify its investment portfolio.

“They know that Costa Rica is a stable country and a country that is attractive for real estate, tourism and technology investments. They are looking for secure destinations and this is what we are giving them,” he said.

Costa Rica and Qatar began establishing diplomatic relations in March 2004.

The agreements signed Monday promote cooperation between the countries and provide protection for investors under certain circumstances in the areas of expropriation, repatriation and currency convertibility, meaning investors may be protected against certain types of government action.

Costa Rican officials neglected to define specific investment projects, but mentioned housing, infrastructure such as ports or highways, telecommunications and further development of high-end tourism as top priorities.

Arias said a mission from Qatar will remain in Costa Rica to learn more about the country´s investment opportunities.

Al-Thani arrived on Monday at the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia and was scheduled to leave the same day. He assumed power in 1995 when he deposed his father while the former ruler was traveling Europe. The father and son have since reconciled.

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