SAO PAULO: Saudi Arabia will send a technical team to Costa Rica later this month to take care of details concerning the establishment of an embassy in San Jose.
The two nations resumed diplomatic relations eight years ago, and have since engaged in high-level exchanges between authorities.
The embassy announcement was made on Monday during a meeting between Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih and Costa Rica’s ministers of foreign relations and foreign trade.
Al-Falih’s visit is part of his tour of Latin American countries, accompanied by a large delegation of Saudi businesspeople.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Arnoldo Andre said: “Saudi Arabia’s weight in the global sphere is undeniable. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner for Costa Rica, with which collective actions are also planned in favor of the environment, development and cooperation.”
Andre met with Al-Falih in February during a visit to the Middle East. On that occasion, they created the Saudi-Costa Rica Business Council with the intention of improving bilateral trade.
In June, Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica signed a memorandum of understanding to promote commercial relations.
Improving diplomatic and commercial ties with Arab nations is an important step for Costa Rica, which for more than two decades had little exchange with the Arab world due to former President Luis Alberto Monge’s decision to move the nation’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1982.
“Monge had been an ambassador to Israel. He just decided to move the embassy, and all relations with Arab countries were broken,” said Carlos Cascante Segura, a professor of foreign relations at the University of Costa Rica.
In 2006, Costa Rica decided to transfer its embassy back to Tel Aviv, gradually resuming ties with Middle Eastern countries.
“Over the past decade, Costa Rica re-established connections with Turkiye, Qatar and the UAE. Saudi Arabia, the most important partner in the Middle East, is a central part in that process,” Cascante Segura said.
Sergio Moya Mena, who heads the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Costa Rica, told Arab News: “Costa Rica and the UAE became very close over the past few years. At the same time, the nation had the clear political goal of building up its relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Costa Rica mainly exports agricultural products such as bananas and coffee to Saudi Arabia, along with medical equipment.
“The Saudis are interested in investing in infrastructure, energy and tourism in Costa Rica,” Moya Mena said.
In February, Commerce Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi promised during a meeting with Andre that he would work to publicize Costa Rica as a tourism destination for Saudis.
The Central American nation is well-known for its work to protect the environment and for ecotourism.
Bryan Acuna, an expert in foreign relations and the Middle East, told Arab News that Costa Rica has become “an important destination for medical tourism and it may draw Saudi tourists — as well as tourists from other parts of the Middle East — who want to take care of their health.”
He said the country has been trying to get access to different markets in the Arab world in recent years, and hopes to attract much-needed investment.
“There have been talks concerning potential investments from the UAE in ports. The Saudis are expected to invest in water infrastructure, agriculture and other areas,” Acuna added.
Earlier this year, Costa Rica and the UAE discussed possible investments in electricity production.
Some social segments have been pushing for broad reform in Costa Rica’s transportation sector, which is mainly powered by non-renewable energy. Foreign funding will be needed.
Cascante Segura said the country has serious infrastructural problems, with no major works being done over the past 25 years.
“San Jose’s airport is from the 1960s and needs to be modernized,” he added. “There are several opportunities to expand the Atlantic coast’s port infrastructure. There’s also the need to intensify clean energy production.”
He said Costa Rica has been making an effort to diversify its funding sources, and Middle Eastern nations can play a role in that regard, especially when it comes to logistics.
During a press conference after the meeting with Andre and Minister of Foreign Trade Manuel Tovar, Al-Falih was asked by journalists if Saudi Arabia would be interested in investing in the construction of a dry canal connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific — an old plan in Costa Rica as an alternative to the Panama Canal.
Al-Falih said he was not familiar with the project, but Saudi Arabia is aware of the new needs generated by the increase in international commerce and is ready to collaborate. “We want to be an active participant in creating diversity and resilience for global trade,” he added.