By Vivek Pattanayak*
Costa Rica, a beautiful country which does not have military, abolished by the constitution since more than seven decades ago, preserves its environment zealously by not allowing any mining activities including gold mining although endowed with this precious asset in abundance, protects its biodiversity with diligence and admirably maintains its ecological balance receiving global adulation. It generates 95% of its electricity through renewable sources. Considered as Switzerland of Latin America. the country is politically neutral with no military alliance. Happiness index of this small country remains in the first ten in the world. Its former President Oscar Aries had received Nobel Prize for peace efforts to end civil war in Nicaragua.
As the tourist destination of Americans and Europeans it promotes wellness tourism. Its former President Guillermo Solis had suggested to have a joint venture with India for promotion of Yoga and Wellness tourism in the world. His passion for history and culture of India originated from his grand god mother who was a Sanskrit scholar having studied Vedas. President Solis was a fan of Ramachandran Guha, he himself being a former Professor of History in the University of Costa Rica. During his conversation with me a couple of years ago he expressed his admiration towards the railway system of India and indicated for involvement of the Indian Railways in the railway modernization and expansion of Costa Rica.
In 2012 and 2013 the vice minister of civil aviation had evinced interest in India’s satellite navigation system known as GAGAN in facilitating air navigation in Costa Rica. India is yet to have an embassy in this country, now being by the Indian embassy in Panama.
Although it is an erstwhile colony of Spain, its influence has withered after post war American dominance. Although other European countries like Germany, France and UK have shown interest in expanding business and commerce, so also Japan, their companies are found to be expensive. On the contrary China has made rapid strides in collaboration with this country. In 2007, Taiwan had its presence in Costa Rica, and there was no China. In last 14 years China has not only established its embassy replacing Taiwan but has spread its wings by building a huge soccer stadium at its own expense, encouraging the Chinese business people to invest in the country. Meanwhile, the President of China has visited the country twice including the present President. During his last visit he signed many commercial and trade agreements. China has agreed to import beef, pork and milk from Costa Rica.
There is an understanding that China would modernize the port of Lemon on the Atlantic side and establish an oil refinery there. They have signed an air services agreement. In last ten years the Chinese have made themselves present in every town with some business or other. One can see the Chinese restaurants in each town including in small town. Such is the rapid expansion of the Chinese influence that Mandarin is taught in the schools as third language, Spanish and English being first and second.
In view of these developments, India must establish an embassy in Costa Rica. Otherwise appointment of a vibrant and active Honorary Consul can serve the purpose for the time being. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must recognize how China is aggressively increasing its influence in a small Latin American country. Being strategically located with all its potentialities of becoming Singapore of the American continent, India should use Costa Rica as the gateway to Latin America.
Since 2007 as a visitor to this country, I see how India can have robust collaboration with this bonanza in the domain of tourism, civil aviation, environment, and agriculture.
In civil aviation sector the country’s airports at Quepos, Golfito, and San Vito need modernization and expansion. Airport Authority of India can extend its technical arm towards modernising these airports by being joint venture partners. Scope of India’s involvement in Liberia and San Jose airports during their expansion phase must be explored.
Few experienced aviation professionals are setting up a budget airline by the name Irazu with acquisition of Air Bus 319 and Boeing 737-700 to capture the Central American market with the active support of the government of Costa Rica. Their second phase of expansion will be to connect Colombia, USA, Canada etc. Ultimately, they will enter Europe through Spain. The promoters are looking for investment. India has air services agreement with Spain. It will be prudent if India negotiates air services agreement with Costa Rica with traffic rights over Madrid and Barcelona. Since there is traffic affinity between Costa Rica and Spain an Indian carrier can operate on this route profitably. They can serve as bridge between Asia and Latin America over Spain. The Indian carriers including other companies should collaborate with this fledging airline for future joint ventures. Just as many Chinese companies have interest in foreign airlines, Government of India should actively encourage the Indian carriers or other aviation related companies like GVK, GVR, Adani and Tata Group to have financial collaboration with Irazu at this stage. Early bird catches the worm.
In the maritime, Adani Group can explore to invest in small ports like Golfito and Punta Renas. Opportunity exists for TATA Group to invest in hotel industry. Real estate is another attractive domain for the Indian investors.
In its efforts to become a global power, India’s expansion of its ambit to South and Central America could be a part of long-term strategy. Air service is the pre-requisite of this strategy.
*The author is a former bureaucrat and held important positions in aviation and power regulatory body. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.