Remarks by Angel Gurría
OECD, France - 13 November 2018
(as prepared for delivery)
Mr President, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome to the OECD the President of Costa Rica, Mr. Carlos Alvarado.
President Alvarado took office in May this year, and has already shown himself to be an inspiring leader with a strong social agenda. Despite his young age, he has had a distinguished career in public office, serving first as Minister of Human Development and Social Inclusion, and then as Minister of Labour.
“Unity in diversity” has been President Alvarado’s trademark since taking office, a vocation that resonates well with the OECD’s focus on inclusive growth and our ongoing efforts to improve international co-operation. He has set the example as a unifier, forming a multi-party cabinet, comprising representatives of no less than five different political parties, and constituting the first cabinet in Costa Rican history to achieve gender-parity.
He leads a country with a solid reputation for political stability and social progress. Costa Rica enjoys the longest uninterrupted period of democratic rule in Latin America and is a model of nature-based sustainable tourism development.
Its success has contributed to attracting important foreign direct investment flows: in 2017 Costa Rica received 22% of the inflows to Central America. Export industries have also developed significantly in recent years, especially the areas of medical equipment and devices. And Costa Rica has become an important services export hub.
Given this context, it is hardly surprising that the nation ranks consistently high with regard to life satisfaction, with levels above the OECD average according to our Better Life Index. Why? Because Costa Rica invests in its people. Near-universal health care and guaranteed education for all have contributed to high life expectancy, low infant mortality and high primary school enrolment. Indeed, Costa Rica is known for its leadership in education in Latin America, with public spending for education being mandated by the Constitution to reach 8% of GDP. But there is always room for improvement, and we are working with Costa Rica to help ensure that this 8% is well spent.
It is precisely this spirit of constantly improving public policies that drives Costa Rica’s interest in joining the OECD. The country still faces a number of challenges – notably its high fiscal deficit. Estimates show that without fiscal reform, the Central Government debt could reach 60% of GDP by 2020. As a result, President Alvarado has made fiscal reform his key priority, proposing a package of measures to tackle the reduction of expenditure and increase tax revenues. Reaching social consensus in this matter will be key to consolidate the reform, and. the OECD will continue supporting this effort to put public finances on a sustainable footing.
Other challenges faced by Costa Rica relate to its rapid development and urbanization. Upgrading transport infrastructure by improving policy design and project execution will be crucial to ease traffic problems and make public transport accessible to all.
Other important and ambitious reforms are related to Costa Rica’s accession to the OECD, which commenced in April 2015. These improvements encompass both administrative and legislative measures in areas that range from the competition law framework to the governance of State-owned enterprises, or waste management processes – to name just a few.
As part of the process of getting closer to our Organisation and aligning with OECD standards, Costa Rica has begun to share its wealth of experience with our Members and partners, for instance its unparalleled green agenda and its goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica has also taken an active role in the OECD Regional Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean, championing its Central American pillar.
Mr. President, we are grateful for this blossoming collaboration, and honoured to have you here today. We look forward to having your country join this house, contributing with its unique experience and perspectives and accompanying our effort to strengthen multilateralism.