By Serhat ÖNALP -TDO- In this issue of our magazine, where we continued ambassador interviews, we hosted the Ambassador of Costa Rica to Turkey, Mr. Gustavo Campos Fallas, a country without an army, and a very successful model for renewable energy.
Mr. Ambassador and I discussed the history of relations between the two countries, the opportunities that can be exploited from the pandemic pro- cess and the future of Turkey – Costa Rica relations.
Diplomatic Observer: 70 years ago, the governments of Costa Rica and Turkey, under the Presidencies of Mr. Otilio Ulate from Costa Rica and Mr. Celal Bayar form Turkey, decided to establish the diplomatic relations, and in doing so to initiate a process of rapprochement between two countries geographically very distant to each other. How has the bilateral relationship developed since then?
Ambassador Campos Fallas: We are now celebrating their historic decision and the great vision of both of our former presidents.
Today we are celebration a historical date. 70 years ago, on September 21st, 1950 the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Turkey, decided to appoint the Ambassador of Turkey in Mexico as their diplomatic non-resident representative to Costa Rica. This decision is considered as the way in which the diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and Turkey were officialised and the completion of both countries will to carried out their diplomatic ties onwards.
During these 70 years, we have observed three different periods.
From 1950 until 2001, diplomatic contacts were sporadically established, mainly through formalities, communications and invitations, so it was a relation mostly of a protocol type.
From 2001 until 2013, the bilateral relations started to increase thanks to four visits made at ministers’ level and one presidential visit. So those 19 years where like an intermediate phase.
The third phase started in 2014, six years ago, with the reciprocal opening of the embassies in our capitals, in San José and Ankara. Since this significant landmark, our relations have been particularly enhanced.
On October 10th, the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Costa Rican Embassy in Ankara will be celebrated. These six years has been a process, for both of our countries of mutual learning and understanding each other’s cultures, realities, strengths and potentialities.
The purpose of establishing our embassy was to strengthen the political dialogue at the bilateral and multilateral level, to increase the cooperation agreements and projects and to improve the economic relations between our countries.
The various bilateral instruments that have been signed and those that will be sign in the near future are a sample of the importance of providing a solid legal framework to our friendship.
With the initiatives that are right now underway, both countries will benefit of our relations. As you mentioned in your question, our countries are geographically far, but thanks to the rapid evolution of our world in transportations, telecommunications and communications technologies, our globalized world it has become easier to overcome the physical distance.
For the advance of a bilateral relations one of the main key factors is the leadership, commitment and motivation of the diplomats involved in that development, both in the Embassies but also in the counterparts in the ministries’ headquarters in the capitals.
This bilateral relationship has been energized since my arrival to Turkey in November 2018. I have worked hard to foster contacts in the academic, commercial, cultural and, above all, the cooperation sector is increasing every day.
I would like to thank to His Excellency Ambassador Levent Gümrükçü Director General of the Department of the Americas of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey for his continuous support. I would also like to highlight the work that the new Ambassador of Turkey in Costa Rica is doing, Her Excellency, Fatma Pihava Ünlü. Her arrival to Costa Rica marks a total new phase of the presence of that Embassy in San Jose, full of positive energy. Both Ambassadors Mr. Gümrükçü and Ms. Ünlü are great friends of Costa Rica and I am certain that both will help to increase the development of our relations.
Diplomatic Observer: What activities have you carried out or are still planning to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations?
Ambassador Campos Fallas: We planned a series of events to commemorate this important event. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the activities have to be cancelled or postponed. To us, the most important, was the celebration of the First Meeting of the Mechanism of Political Consultations. Even though the Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2001, and we have had several high-level encounters, we have not yet had a meeting framed as a political consultation. This political consultation was scheduled to take place on April 21st, but the to current pandemic the official visit of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Costa Rica was not possible.
We are happy that besides this small setback, a virtual meeting at General Director’s level will be held by the end of October as a first step for an official visit at a Deputy Minister´s Level during 2021. This type of high-level encounters in the near future will keep enhancing a robust bilateral agenda of cooperation in all areas: economic, political, academic, touristic, cultural, scientific and technological.
Today, on September 21st, we are laying a wreath to the July 15th Democracy and Union Day Martyr’s Monument in the Presidential Complex. This protocolary ceremony is very meaningful for us, since we want to highlight the bravery of the Turkish people in defending democracy, a value that is essential to Costa Rica, as a cornerstone of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
An exchange of diplomatic notes between our Ministers of Foreign Affairs will take also take place today, September 21st, as a prelude for a minister’s level meeting in 2021.
Diplomatic observer: Where do Costa Rica- Turkey relations stand?
Ambassador Campos Fallas: The relations between Costa Rica and Turkey are warm and excellent. As I recently mentioned, the reciprocal opening of the Embassies was a landmark in the development of our relations.
The commercial exchange between our countries is one of the major areas of opportunity for the development or our bilateral relations.
The total of our bilateral trade is approximately 115 million dollars for 2019. Year to year, it has been fluctuating, the trend is slow, but positive. I must accept, is has been predominantly positive for the Turkish side in terms for the evident growth of exports from Turkey to Costa Rica.
The main products sold by Costa Rica to Turkey are fruits, especially fresh but also dried, in particular bananas and pineapple. We even export butterfly cocoons to Turkey, mostly for the Tropical Butterfly Garden in Konya. Our exports of high-tech medical devices are increasing. High-tech medical devices are our main sector of exports in Costa Rica. From Turkey to Costa Rica the main products we import are metal, especially iron and steel.
The World Trade Organization has already decribed a “plunge” this year for international trade, in addition to the fact that the international trade was already in a negative trend since 2019 likely due the trade wars. The data available until July seems to show that there has not been a major decrease in our bilateral trade, but due to the historical fluctuations trend, it is difficult to determine the actual effect of the pandemic. Of course, the disruption, delays and decrease of the volumes that international trade is experiencing will also have an impact in our bilateral trade, in a context where, to be honest, even before, in pre-pandemic time, the logistics for the import and exports or good to and from our countries was already a major area of opportunity for improvement.
A particularly important development for the future development of the economic relations between our countries is the entry into force of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Establishment of the Joint Committee on Commerce between Costa Rica and Turkey.
This MOU sets up a framework for the work, from now and on a more structured based of the ministries of trade and other relevant institutions towards the increase of the bilateral commerce and investments.
Due to this entry into force of this MOU, the Embassy organized a videoconference between the Central American Business Council of DEIK and Costa Rican counterparts as the Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX), the Costa Rica Exports Promotion Agency (PROCOMER) and the Costa Rica Investments Promotion Agency (CINDE) as a preamble for the first meeting of the Joint Committee between the authorities of the Foreign Trade’s Ministries.
The memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the Joint Committee on Commerce between Costa Rica and Turkey will pave the way to a new hight in our economic ties. We are sure that the implementation of this mechanism will improve the commercial and investment relations between our countries and could be the initial point for further bilateral agreements.
Costa Rica has started doing strong promotional work in Turkey. The Embassy of Costa Rica in Turkey works hard to promotes its country brand, Essential Costa Rica, that encompasses the promotion of a very wide exportable offer, the excellent business climate and the great potential and results for investing in Costa Rica, as well as the exotic and stunning touristic landmarks, cultural and natural attractions of our country.
Reciprocal knowledge among our peoples, and particularly among our private sectors, will catapult the development of our economic relationship. We look forward for Turkey to increase its long-term and high value-added investments in our country. The increase of person to person contacts is one of the main elements for strengthening a bilateral relationship.
At the multilateral level, Costa Rica and Turkey share many positions and topics of common interest. We also have a great track record in terms of cooperation in the international political organizations, in particular in the matter of support of candidacies. I would like to thank Turkey for its support for Costa Rica's accession into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Our Embassy in Turkey has worked very hard to establish relations between our universities. Academic cooperation is one of the main areas in which we see a great potential between our countries. We hope that the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the National Council of Rectors (CONARE) and the Council of Higher Education of Turkey (YOK) can be finalized very soon. This MOU has been signed by the President of CONARE and we hope that YOK could also do so shortly.
We also celebrate the recent virtual meeting between the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology and the President of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK). This important meeting means a very important starting point for the cooperation of our countries in technology, innovation and science, specially in the short term for COVID-19 prevention, treatment and vaccines.
We are committed to keep strengthening our bilateral relations.
Diplomatic Observer: What possibilities of cooperation do you see between Costa Rica and Turkey during the present pandemic and afterwards?
Ambassador Campos Fallas: The case of Costa Rica is very special regarding international cooperation.
We are a country with a dual role in international cooperation, that is to say, we receive some international cooperation but at the same time we are offerors and providers of cooperation, mostly technical cooperation.
It is true that, in comparison with the rest of the countries of Central American and the Caribbean, we enjoy higher level of quality of life and very good indicators, but that does not mean that we still do not need cooperation in a range of different areas. We are still in need of cooperation from friendly countries in several areas in order to help us achieve our development.
Precisely due to progress achieved by our country, in the early 90s Costa Rica was excluded from access to receive Official Development Assistance (ODA) and most of other ways and sources of cooperation. This decision was made due to the use of one particular criteria, the GDP per capita. Just by using this single indicator, the country was since then barred of the cooperation programs of the main international donors.
In a way, this is like punishing success. That is to say, to punish a country, like Costa Rica, that previously used the cooperation received in an efficient and appropriate way in contrast with some other countries that, in some cases, not only did not implement the cooperation, but those resources even ended in other some people’s pockets.
Costa Rica has had and continues to have a strong leadership between middle income countries in order to push for a reconsideration of the said ultra-simplified criteria for international cooperation. Costa Rica has strong positions on the matter in the international arena and not only has criticized the said simplistic standard, we have also proposed options to improve those benchmarks.
The main of these proposals is called “structural gaps”, which means that donors should not only considered the GDP per capita and look into a wider group of indicators and national conditions in order to determine the beneficiaries of the cooperation. Those structural gaps are in the following areas: poverty and inequality, infrastructure, education, gender, productivity, and innovation.
As mentioned before, Costa Rica is also an offeror of international cooperation. We have achieved important developments in a wide range of areas, and we have acquired significant levels of technical advance that allows to be able to provide technical cooperation to some countries. So, we might not be able to provide financed based cooperation, but we have the capacity of provide technical assistance.
This position has also allowed us to join forces with some countries that have the financial means, traditionally major international donors, in order to create triangular cooperation projects with a third country as beneficiary. So, within this scheme, we provide the technical assistance, one country provides the financing and a third countries benefits from both kinds of cooperation. We look forward to having Turkey as a partner for triangular cooperation projects.
We are currently willing to start talks in order to establish projects for the sharing of best practices, not only in relation to the attention of the pandemic, but also in the future in several other topics such as renewable energies, climate change, among others.
It is especially important to remark that this pandemic has made us realize the importance of further develop the cooperation in the health sector, with has been traditionally neglected in comparison with other areas of cooperation.
So, this is an area where we will also start to work to identify possible areas of work between both of our healthcare systems that would be mutually beneficial and for the sake of the improvement and reinforcement of our countries social security systems.
The cooperation in the health sector is fundamental not only bilaterally but also in the multilateral fora, and that is why Costa Rica proposed to the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 Rights Repository or also known as COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP)
This platform will allow the sharing of data, knowledge, intellectual property and facilitate equitable access to health products that will save lives against COVID-19. So far 39 countries have already co-sponsored and endorsed this Costa Rican proposal for the health of all inhabitants of the world.
I would some like to add that our country, since the beginning of the pandemic has stressed the importance or enhancing global cooperation, for that the strengthening and support of multilateralism is paramount.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres has congratulated Costa Rica on several occasions for its committed and tireless efforts to promote multilateralism.
Our Minister of Foreign Affairs recently participated in the high-level virtual Forum "The United Nations Charter: Multilateralism in a Fragmented World", in which the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter was commemorated.
Costa Rica raised three premises of capital importance for Costa Rica. First: there can be no lasting security without human security; second: international law is the true foundation of peace and security and constitutes a central responsibility of the Member States, and third: the international community needs and has the right to an effective and efficient Security Council.
Human security is not in conflict with state security. Both go hand in hand. With this in mind, the Security Council cannot continue to ignore Article 26 of the Charter.
This transformation requires a paradigm shift towards human and sustainable development, for which there has never been so much momentum before. In this historic year for the UN, Costa Rica emphasizes the need, not only to reflect on the ideals of the Charter and renew the commitment to its fundamental principles, but also for all countries to commit to working together in a spirit of global solidarity.
Diplomatic Observer: What challenges and benefits lie ahead in our bilateral relations?
Ambassador Campos Fallas: Faced with global economic headwinds, we need to be nimble and able to navigate the challenges, such as slowing economies and a weakening of the multilateral, rules-based trading system.
Looking to the future, Costa Rica and Turkey should explore opportunities to collaborate beyond our traditional markets. This means Costa Rica could serve as a trade and investment platform for Turkey in Latin America. We need to leverage on our strategic locations, as regional hubs. To strengthen this, we need to enhance familiarity with each other. We could consider increase the interaction among the political and especially between business leaders, such as through study visits and exchanges from both sides.
Diplomatic Observer: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Campos Fallas: Thank you and I would like to take this opportunity to wish for the prosperity and happiness of the people of Costa Rica and the people of Turkey. Happy anniversary! Tebrikler! Teşekkürler!