President Luis Guillermo Solís flew to the Brazilian capital on Tuesday for a week-long meeting with Latin American leaders and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Solís said he planned to speak to Xi during their brief meeting Wednesday evening about several troubled Chinese projects and the countries’ trade imbalance.
Solís attended the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, in Brasilia as Costa Rica’s representative in the leadership quartet, which includes Cuba, Ecuador and Antigua. Costa Rica is the current CELAC president pro tempore.
The Costa Rican president will hold his first meeting with Xi since taking office in May. Solís will have plenty to discuss with the Chinese leader although they are set to meet for a scant 20 minutes on Wednesday. Several major Costa Rica-Chinese projects have come under fire during the last year, including a $485 million loan from China to expand the Route 32 highway between San José and Limón. Last summer, a new Chinese-funded oil refinery project in Limón was sent back to the drawing board after a conflict of interest was uncovered between the project’s management and the firm that carried out its environmental impact study.
Another subject of concern is the balance of trade between China and Costa Rica. Former President Óscar Arias signed a free trade agreement with China in 2009. Costa Rica formally recognized the People’s Republic of China in 2007. Since the signing of the agreement however, Costa Rica’s exports to China have collapsed while Chinese imports have significantly increased, according to figures from the Foreign Trade Ministry, COMEX. Costa Rican exports to China reached their peak of $848.2 million in 2007 but fell to $288.2 million in 2010, rising slightly to $371.7 in 2013. Chinese imports, on the other hand, have steadily increased during the last decade, reaching $1.6 billion in 2013.
Solís also stressed the need to develop greater bonds between Costa Rica and Brazil.
“We want to establish a political, commercial, touristic and cultural alliance with Brazil. The time has come to strengthen our ties to this global power,” Solís said, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.
Costa Rican trade has plenty of room to grow with the BRIC country. Costa Rica exported $33.5 million in goods and services to Brazil in 2013, according to COMEX figures, far behind its Central American neighbors and China. Solís and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will meet on Thursday. The Costa Rican leader and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet also have a meeting scheduled for Thursday.
On Friday, Solís will travel to São Paulo to meet with former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is celebrated for his success in reducing the country’s extreme poverty during his term from 2003-2011.