Wearing a black suit and baby blue tie, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper was greeted by President Laura Chinchilla at the Casa Presidencial at 11 a.m. Thursday morning. Together, the two walked down a red carpet flanked by school children waiving Canadian and Costa Rican flags and smiled for the photographs of the press.
“I am delighted to be making my first official visit to your beautiful country, though I am certainly not the first Canadian,” Harper said to the crowd. “More than 10,000 of our fellow Canadians, drawn by Costa Rica’s stability, high standard of living and perhaps the weather, have made their homes here.”
During their hour-long meeting, the two leaders discussed bilateral commercial interests, agreed to update the existing free-trade agreement, signed an “open skies” agreement to increase the number of direct flights between the countries, promised to ease Visa restrictions, and pledged to assist Costa Rica in their efforts to improve security.
“President Chinchilla and I discussed the security challenges that Costa Rica faces, especially from transnational criminal organizations,” Harper said. “Earlier today, I visited the Costa Rican police academy and saw how patriotic Costa Ricans are training to counter these criminal organizations…I’m delighted to announce that Canada will contribute funds towards strengthening the capacity of Costa Rica’s National Police.”
Harper arrived at Juan Santamaría International Airport late Wednesday night, met with Chinchilla the following morning and visited the El Castillo ice-skating rink in Heredia, northwest of San José. He heads to Honduras on Friday morning.
Harper’s Latin America trip began Monday in Brazil, followed by a visit on Wednesday to Colombia. In Colombia’s capital of Bogota on Wednesday, Harper and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos inked a free-trade agreement between the two countries.
“We are here to celebrate a historic moment,” Harper said Wednesday according the news agency AFP. “Canada is looking to diversify its markets.”
On Friday, Harper is expected to sign a free-trade agreement between Canada and Honduras. According to a press release by the Honduras Ministry of the Presidency, “the initiative will open the market for exports of traditional and nontraditional products, as well as an increase in bilateral investment.”
“Our government has focused on expanding and enhancing market access to create jobs, economic growth and opportunities for Canadians. The Americas remain a key region of increasing economic prosperity and entrepreneurialism,” said Harper in the press release. “We continue to further strengthen our economic ties, collaborate on shared areas of security and highlight our many successes to date in this important region.”
Costa Rica is Canada’s largest trade partner in Central America.