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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Mutual interests drive UAE and Costa Rica's growing relationship

Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that functions mostly on renewable energy and they want to share their knowledge, and their tourists, with the UAE

Francisco Chacon Hernandez, ambassador representing the Republic of Costa Rica in the United Arab Emirates. Victor Besa / The National 
Francisco Chacon Hernandez, ambassador representing the Republic of Costa Rica in the United Arab Emirates. Victor Besa / The National 

At first sight, Costa Rica and the UAE may not seem to have much in common – but the two countries are increasingly looking to work together on mutual interests such as increasing tourism and renewable energy.

The UAE will celebrate 50 years since its establishment in 2021, when Costa Rica will mark its bicentennial.

The country is a large importer of UAE aluminium, dates and dried fruits, while the Emirates imports furniture, electronic cables, medical devices and pineapples. Its bananas and coffee will soon be introduced to the UAE market.

In November, Costa Rica opened its first UAE embassy, and since then trade between the two countries has increased by 15 per cent.

“I am the first ambassador and this is the first embassy, so I started from scratch,” said Francisco Chacon, 53.

“In just one year, the framework covered is amazing.

Mr Chacon started his diplomatic career when he was 23, as chief of staff to the deputy foreign minister of Costa Rica.

He then studied international relations in Belgium and was posted to Washington, Brussels and Canada before coming to the UAE.

He is a passionate hiker and particularly enjoys the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais.

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The UAE is Costa Rica’s hub in the region and the ambassador also handles relations with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Costa Rica is one of only a few countries that uses mostly renewable energy. It wants to be carbon neutral by 2021, and it has advanced knowledge of green technology.

“The President has instructed the different layers of government to begin the process of de-carbonising the economy, meaning the gradual change from a reliance on carbon fuels to greener sources of energy,” Mr Chacon said.

Costa Rica’s national electricity and telecoms company has teamed up with UAE renewables company Masdar to “work on renewable energy projects from A to Z”.

“Masdar is excellent in solar and we are proud to have expertise in hydro and biogas.

“We will sell technology and what we know best, as well as co-operate with developing countries on human development.”

The two countries also hope to form desalination partnerships.

“We are very keen as a country to contribute to the UAE on food security. We think that free trade, especially in agricultural business, is very good for all and we are working with the Minister of Food Security to assist each other,” Mr Chacon said.

Bilateral co-operation is going from strength to strength, with 11 agreements signed so far.

Costa Rica is keen to develop its tourism sector and has been working with Emirates airline and Etihad Airways to open up more routes. Both sides are advertising that the other is just “one stop away”.

In addition to offering vast green forests and rich wildlife, Costa Rica also hopes to attract medical tourists, especially for cheaper plastic surgery, dental care, eye surgery and rehabilitation.

“We have a chain of hospitals overlooking the sea and they offer people a chance to heal properly,” Mr Chacon said. “When you are recovering, the nature – it sets you on another mental mindset.”

A halal tourism seminar to educate the private sector on how to cater for UAE and Muslim tourists is being planned.

Last year, 500 Costa Ricans visited the UAE.