Presidents Juan Manuel Santos, of Colombia, and Laura Chinchilla, of Costa Rica, began this Friday discussions for a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, which could lead to millions of dollars in investment.
After a private meeting, in a west San José hotel, the leaders signed a framework agreement setting out the principles governing the negotiations, which will begin in July in the Colombian capital of Bogota.
“I hope we finish as soon as possible, that will depend on the dynamics of the negotiations, but Costa Rica and Colombia have plenty of experience in free trade and I do not see many problems,” Santos said in a conference press with Chinchilla, after the meeting.
Chinchilla highlighted that Costa Rica and Colombia shared the “same vision of development,” and the similarities “ provide the basis to form a deep and lasting business partnership.”
“Our relationship keeps growing stronger in the political arena, and now in the commercial, that will lead us to join efforts in forums where we share interests,” Chinchilla said.
Costa Rica’s exports to Colombia grew by 12.1 percent in 2011 compared to the last two years, but the trade balance is very unfavorable, according to official figures.
In 2011, Costa Rican sales to Colombian were $48.2 million, against $455.7 million imports.
The two presidents, accompanied by their foreign ministers, trade ministers, environment ministers and security ministers, discussed further aspects of bilateral interests like fighting narco-trafficking, migration and the protection of marine resources.
Chinchilla also promised to review the visa requirement necessary for Colombians to visit Costa Rica. Colombians make up the second largest foreign population in Costa Rica, after Nicaraguans. Of the 386,000 immigrants living in the country, 4.3 percent are Colombians, according to the 2011 census.
In the topic of environment, both governments agreed to continue cooperating against illegal fishing and shark finning and the defense of the sea.
“It is precisely the theme of the oceans that will be one of the specific topics at the Rio+20 Summit (going on in Brazil), because if we continue to destroy the seas we will have waters without fish.” Santos said..
On the issue of security, Santos stressed that the countries must join efforts to prevail in the battle being waged against organized crime.
“This is a transnational crime and the more cooperation we have the more effective we will be. Colombia has managed to accumulate, at a high price, great experience in this fight and we want to share it with Costa Rica,” he said.
Costa Rica, like the rest of Central America, is a bridge for Colombian cocaine cartels that are transporting the product to the world’s biggest drug consumer, the United States.
Santos left Costa Rica that same afternoon.