Meeting of the OECD Council
November 5, 2013
Mr. Angel Gurría, Secretary-General
I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to address you today. I wanted to personally convey to you the deepest appreciation and gratitude of my country for the decision you took last May. That decision will allow us to work closely with you, over the next several months, with a view to prepare ourselves to open accession negotiations in 2015. I trust that your support and guidance throughout this process will allow us to harvest valuable fruits along the way, while at the same time firmly position ourselves for a positive outcome when the time comes.
Costa Rica is a country that has passionately pursued inclusive, sustainable and resilient growth and prosperity for many years. We have done so convinced that this is the way to go to bring about a better quality of life for our people.
While moving forward in that direction, we have seen the OECD as a lighthouse, as an institution that for many years has provided us with guidance, analysis, reflection and inspiration.
We aspire now to forge deeper ties with this institution and become part of this house of best public policy practices. My government set this goal for our nation, but to be clear, joining the OECD is a national project, one that enjoys wide and strong support amongst diverse political parties, the business sector, the academia and other different organizations.
To allow for a smooth transition, we have put in place the right conditions in terms of institutional organization, financial resources and, of course, a plan of action, which we have already begun to implement.
Countries have a legitimate aspiration to grow in order to provide better opportunities to their people and higher standards of living. Achieving success in such a difficult quest is not easy. Prosperity appears to be the result of an interaction of a wide range of policies, forces and factors; hence, we should be humble in our approach, flexible in our design but most importantly, clear on our vision. There is not an infallible strategy to be followed, but we believe there are at least four key elements that should be made part of it.
First, we believe it is fundamental to have the ability to provide public education and universal health care. These are the main drivers of social mobility, essential components to ensure proper grounds for a cohesive, peaceful and stable society. It is about empowering people, providing them with the tools to transform their own fate. In today’s world, this means more than literacy. It is about access to high-speed Internet at a reasonable rate, technical training and language skills, among others.
It is also about providing people with access to a health system that ensures their well being, that provides the conditions for a long and healthy life.
Costa Rica is a good example of commitment to human development as an essential element of our growth strategy. We were one of the first countries in the world to declare primary education free and mandatory for all boys and girls. Today, we devote more than 7% of GDP to finance public education. We were also pioneers in establishing a system of universal healthcare that has enabled us to enjoy health standards equal to those of many OECD members.
Second, we believe that successful growth relies also on the ability to integrate to the global economy; to welcome technological change and promote innovation; to seek competition as a healthy practice.
In Costa Rica, some thirty years ago we realized that we were simply too small to pursue an inward looking development agenda and decided to open up to the world, transforming dramatically over time our productive structure. From a closed economy that depended heavily on a few commodities, Costa Rica has evolved into an open economy, and a highly attractive destination for foreign direct investment, the nation with the fourth largest participation of high tech products in its manufacturing exports. This is a country that is fully integrated into the global and regional value chains on electronics, medical devices, aerospace, film devices and IT and business services. It is absolutely clear that international trade and FDI have been strong drivers of our growth and shall continue to be.
Third, we believe that a successful growth strategy is possible where there are strong democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law; where there is a firm commitment to the highest ethical standards and good governance practices; where we find conscious efforts to strengthen the full participation of women and youth in the economy and in the decision making processes; where freedom is guarantee, promoted and practiced. Growth can come from oppression but sustainable growth can only come from liberty, ingenuity and from a nation´s ability to improve itself. Market economy and individual freedom provide for growth and innovation, stimulate productivity and creativity.
Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in Latin America. We believe that democracy, with all its imperfections, is the only political system fully compatible with human dignity. The abolition of the army as a permanent institution over 60 years ago, has ensured a continuing climate of peace and stability, and released significant resources to invest in the well being of our citizens and to promote social cohesion.
Fourth and final, we are convinced that successful growth can only be achieved hand in hand with environmental preservation. Economic development and environmental protection are not excluding but supportive of each other. Countries must strive to find the right balance to achieve both.
From our standpoint, decades before there was a vivid worldwide concern about the risks posed by climate change, Costa Rica emerged as a leader of environmental preservation, creating a network of national parks that currently protects more than a quarter of our territory. Moreover, close to 95 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources, and we continue investing in the development of wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-gas as sources of energy. Today, we remain as committed as ever to sustainable development: we are working to reduce our carbon footprint with the aim of becoming one of the first carbon neutral countries in the world.
Costa Rica’s development path and aspirations should make it the right partner to complement the OECD’s current membership, serving as a gateway to disseminate the values and principles of the OECD in Latin America and globally. At the same time, Costa Rica may bring upon a regional balance to the organization as we would be a member from the Central America and Caribbean region, which is not currently represented.
Working closely with the OCDE has already provided results that are mutually beneficial. Over the past three years, we have weaved important ties in areas such as fiscal policy, investment, global value chains, innovation and technology, environment and education. Ministers, lawmakers, and some other key persons, have engaged in OECD policy dialogues, sharing their experiences and gathering input in diverse fields of interest. Throughout this process, we have learned valuable lessons that have contributed to raise standards in different areas. At the same time, we have been able to share best practices with others members.
Following the Council’s decision, a group of 25 public institutions, under the guidance of our Ministry of Foreign Trade, has put together an action plan which we hope will open new avenues of collaboration in areas like competition and consumer policy, statistics, economic policy and gender issues.
We were honored to welcome Secretary General Angel Gurría to Costa Rica a few weeks ago. During his visit, we engaged in a discussion on how to move forward to implement our plan and shared with him the commitment of the team that is leading these efforts. This was also an opportunity to make public our adherence to the Declaration on Propriety, Integrity and Transparency, and to the Declaration of the Future of the Internet Economy.
Today, I am glad to inform you about our decision to adhere to the recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, and our formal commitment to a Youth Action Plan that will strengthen the education system and contribute to prepare our youth for the world of work.
In a dynamic and increasingly integrated world, it is in our best interest to measure ourselves against the best. To this end, approaching the OECD is particularly important as it commits us to contrast our reality with the highest international standards and be better prepared to confront the challenges ahead to close the gap.
Joining the OECD will lead us towards the modernization of our institutions and of our legal, economic and political practices.
We stand ready to do it! We are decided to continue promoting the growth of our trade and investment flows, further expanding our productive base and seeking to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that Costa Rica remains as a competitive destination for foreign direct investment.
We are committed to continue undertaking our best efforts to ensure that our institutional system supports those with entrepreneurial spirit. We aim at being able to guarantee access to energy supplies at competitive prices, to rebuild physical infrastructure, further opening room for private participation; to strengthen our institutional managerial capacities for the adequate execution of public works, to enhance connectivity and to provide access to finance, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises.
We are decided to continue promoting our talent pool and the enormous potential we have to enhance the quality of our integration to the world economy, improving the quality of education, aligning it to the demands of the workplace and making innovation policies a national priority.
On the fiscal front, we are fully committed to ensure that our macroeconomic fundamentals are on track. Over the last couple of years, we have undertaken significant efforts to strengthen tax revenues and reduce spending. It is time to define how to address our current fiscal deficit and ensure the solvency of the State in the future. To that end, we have recently initiated a national dialogue and we are confident that it will lead us to solutions that may allow us to continue moving forward along the path that we have defined.
We are decided to make significant progress on our transition to a low carbon economy. This is an essential part of our legacy to the future generations.
We trust on our ability to succeed on all these endeavors. We are confident that once again, with the support and guidance of this house of best practices, we will be able to achieve our goals.
I have been granted the honor to speak in front of you to reiterate our firm commitment to build strong foundations on our road towards becoming part of the OECD; our determination to enrich the dialogue on better policies with the perspective of a small and thriving economy, globally integrated, that has put human development and environmental sustainability at the forefront; and our solid purpose to address our shortcomings aiming at higher standards of development.
We know that the road ahead is not a straight line; it is a road beset with hard choices and looming dangers. But we are convinced that we have chosen the right path, and the right partners to guide us through it.
Over the last several weeks, I have been often asked about what does Costa Rica expect by joining the OECD? With modesty and yet with pride, I have simply responded that our greatest aspiration is to have this organization help us become an improved version of ourselves, of the country we already are.
Thank you very much!