Manuel Tovar Rivera, Minister of Foreign Trade and President of PROCOMER, graduated in Law from the Autonomous University of Central America. He has a masters degree in International Law and International Relations from the Complutense University of Madrid and is a PhD student in Political Science from the University of Salamanca, an entity where he studied a postgraduate degree in Administrative Law. He has completed professional updating studies at Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Carolina Rodriguez Hernandez : What was your childhood like and how did it influence your current professional career?
Manuel Tovar Rivera: I had a happy… childhood, I enjoyed my parents and my brothers, in a beautiful, international environment, with a Spanish father and a Puerto Rican mother, born in Barcelona, my father went to his country to study and there, he met My mother I have always been exposed to the world and it is something that has marked me in my life. Being exposed to different cultures has allowed me to function in the environment in which I find myself today.
CRH: Tell us about his experience in Israel. What should Costa Ricans learn from these countries, and what should they learn from Costa Rica?
MT: Israel is an exemplary country, more than a country it is the people that has suffered painful persecution throughout its history and for this reason perhaps it has marked the essence of the people of Israel in the sense that they have had to innovate to exist, to innovate for the drip system and sanitize the water they drink, to sow the fruits of the desert, in technologies, they have learned innovation is a power worldwide, we must bet more on innovation if we want to make a qualitative leap of transformation if we want begin to innovate as Israel did, they have done it through historical traumas and also needs because they live in a very arid land but we have all the conditions and talent to bet on this because if we innovate we will produce more we will producing better, better, more qualified human talent worldwide, we can move towards our goal of de-carnation and ensure sustainability to progress… Minister Tovar also highlighted that “both countries have a lot to offer each other. On the one hand, Israel is a leader in innovative industries such as high-tech, cybersecurity, agro-tech, and cleantech. On the other, Costa Rica is an important supplier of high-quality agricultural products, as well as advanced manufacturing products and sophisticated business services and information technology, among others.”
“On March 29, 2023, in the framework of a meeting held with Israeli authorities, the Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica, Manuel Tovar, and the Minister of Economy and Industry of Israel, Nir Barkat, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on trade and announced the decision to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries
“The government of the Republic is aware that comparative and competitive advantages are dynamic, so the global positioning that our country has achieved thanks to its solid platform of trade agreements requires that we constantly and proactively seek options to continue deepening and diversifying it, but with strategic sense. The Middle East is a region of the world with which there is a lot of space to strengthen our commercial exchange and investment and this FTA that Costa Rica and Israel have decided to negotiate is framed precisely within that logic”, indicated Minister Tovar.
…One of the reasons why we want to negotiate with Israel is precisely because of the type of community that it is as a leading world power in technologies… There are very dynamic comparative and competitive advantages, therefore, global positioning. What the country has achieved thanks to its solid platform of trade agreements requires us to constantly and proactively look for options to continue deepening and diversifying, but with strategic sense. The Middle East is a region of the world with which there is a lot of space to strengthen our commercial exchange and investment”, he indicated.
Costa Rica and Israel are two friendly countries, whose good and lasting relations in different fields offer an excellent outlook to deepen and strengthen trade and investment ties. In addition, there are clear and undeniable positive synergies between the two economies, which can be capitalized on to foster mutually beneficial outcomes, such as increasing participation in global value chains for advanced manufacturing and highly sophisticated services.
CRH: What are your current expectations as foreign trade minister?
MT: Yes, I have a very clear mandate, which is to contribute to the economic reactivation of the country, generate employment and lower the cost of living, international trade and foreign direct investment go in this direction, with FDI promoting and positioning the country as an actor relevant, a reliable destination to place capital to generate jobs, but on the other hand, foreign trade, in addition to giving our productive sector an opportunity for growth so that they continue to export more to more markets, also generates a devolutive effect in the sense that Costa Ricans benefit from Through foreign trade of inputs at lower costs, eliminate imposed tariffs because in the end this has an impact on people’s pockets, and it is the responsibility of promoting exports and attracting investment, both to the free zone regime and to the regime definitive; Therefore, the approach of attracting FDI (foreign direct investment) will allow greater agility and facilitation of the paperwork for companies. The urgent need for Costa Rica is the need to diversify towards other FDI sectors. In addition, this decision responds to a new vision of public policy that aims to generate greater benefits from international trade and FDI.
CRH: Could you tell us more about the current projects of the Ministry of Foreign Trade?
MT : Many ongoing projects, on one hand, we have trade negotiations with the United Arab Emirates and with Israel that are about to start in the upcomming weeks, we are in agreement with very sophisticated advanced digital economy such as New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, and also Canada, which seeks to raise standards in data protection disciplines, cyber security, we are also advancing in the generation of a better infrastructure condition for the export sector and importers, which is the other side of the coin. We are advancing in the conclusion of the new border post in Panama in the south We have started a new post on the border with Nicaragua in trade with SMEs, they also contribute, says Minister Tovar, “with this visit we begin a new era in relations with a friendly country and a strategic partner for Costa Rica, with whom we share values.” Likewise, he expressed that the strengthening of commercial and investment ties with Israel fits within the strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Trade to make the Costa Rican economy more competitive and promote innovation in our productive sector and attract more foreign investment to the country to continue generating jobs”.
CRH: Tell us about your experience as Commercial Attaché at the Embassy of Costa Rica to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Special Envoy at the Mission of Costa Rica to the European Union?
MT: I had the honor of serving in Brussels, Belgium and in the Costa Rican embassy in Luxembourg we had concurrence and the mission before the European Union that ultimately the economic trade relationship in Costa Rica with the block is governed through Brussels, has a community trade policy and at that time we launched a trade negotiation agreement and I had the privilege of participating in that negotiation and lobbying where I warmed up to convey why it is important for Europe as well as the Central American region to achieve alliances and knock on doors
CRH: What kind of efforts does Costa Rica need for greater integration into global markets through a new series of bilateral trade negotiations?
MT: We are already an economy closely linked to foreign markets, with Ecuador we have concluded several months pending to rectify in the Legislative Assembly 17 trade agreements that include more than 50 countries, (European Union and EFTA countries) we have preferential access to two thirds of the world GDP, we are a small economy that depends on external markets for the inputs we need to produce, such as foreign investment that arrives as a result of these trade negotiations, as well as the products that we, who are already more than 4000 before, place We exported commodities and today we have industrial products, services and advanced medicine, which proves we have been successful. In the same way, we have INTEL becoming more sophisticated and we went from exporting plants to microships and that depends on the level of the economy that has advanced.
CRH : How do you think it will affect the economy? Regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, what is Costa Rica’s position?
MT: The Russia / Ukraine war has been unfortunate in contemporary history as it has been unilateral but Costa Rica has remained sensible in denouncing in all forums and concern for the serious situation that Ukraine has been going through for a year due to the invasion of its territory by Russia. “Costa Rica has raised its voice about this aggression on several occasions and in various international forums.
As stated, the country promised to support Ukraine in its goal of joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as the creation of a Special Court to try Russia for war crimes, the “principle of perpetual active and unarmed neutrality” Ukraine is not alone and despite the fact that we are a neutral country to which Costa Rica welcomes any type of world military event. Which puts at risk and there has been a global impact and scope, not only catastrophic nuclear effects but has had an economic impact, impact on global economies and limited security, The consequences of this military invasion are felt beyond the borders of Ukraine and Europe , and have intensified existing vulnerabilities, such as inequality, the economic, food and health crises, and climate change, which disproportionately impact developing nations.
…Costa Rica reaffirms its commitment to the defense of democratic values and international law, and calls on the international community to act in brotherhood with the Ukrainian people, who bravely and resiliently fight to survive in this conflict, and they maintain their desire to build a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society in their sovereign territory. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship
CRH: Tell us about the trade agreement between Israel/Costa Rica, do you think it can promote the scaling of participation in global value chains of advanced manufacturing and highly sophisticated services?
MT: Both hierarchs agreed on the need to develop a roadmap that allows all the steps required to start the negotiation process to be fulfilled. The objective is to start said negotiation in the last quarter of 2023.
Both countries have a lot to offer each other. In one hand, Israel is a leader in innovative industries such as high-tech, cybersecurity, agro-tech, and cleantech. On the other, Costa Rica is an important supplier of high-quality agricultural products, as well as advanced manufacturing products and sophisticated business services and information technology, among others.”
Both hierarchs agreed on the need to develop a roadmap that allows all the steps required to start the negotiation process to be fulfilled. The objective is to start said negotiation in the last quarter of 2023.
CRH: What bilateral relations (not existing until now) are intended to be established during the administration of Rodrigo Chaves?
MT: Costa RICA represents RESPONSIBILITY, we are a responsible actor, a responsible world citizen committed to the decarbonization of this planet with the reduction of greenhouse gases and any other scourge that threatens environmental sustainability and also a recognized country and an undeniable reputation both at regional and global as an oasis of coexistence and peace, a country where HUMAN RIGHTS are respected and where today we see regional and global conflicts, our model is most admired in the world, the one that has known how to transform itself and is attractive and sexy for foreign investment .
Finally, what is next in the life of Manuel Tovar, how would you like to be remembered as a minister? What is Costa Rica’s message to the world in terms of foreign trade?
… life is uncertain I will be here until the president of the republic decides that I can make him useful until the year 2026 being a minister of state one has to carry two agendas the prepositive agenda and the agenda to put out fires that arise on the day Today, I have the challenge of building a better Costa Rica… so my legacy is to lead the country to a better tomorrow for the next generation to have a good future and lead the country on the right path, see what new generations feel free, responsible for the Costa Rica that is being built… (when mentioning the new generations, his eyes shine when he mentions his little girl, like many parents, we want to leave that legacy to build a better tomorrow for our kid )