The Central American Group: Hello and welcome to another installation of a continuing series podcasts recorded by The Central American Group. We speak with people that are experts in various fields related to doing business in Central America. Today, we are pleased to be here with Jorge Sequeira. He is the managing director of an organization called CINDE in Costa Rica. CINDE is the country’s widely known and international award-winning economic development group.
Hello. how are you doing today?
Jorge Sequeira: I’m doing well. Great talking to you.
The Central American Group: Could you please give us a little bit of a background about yourself and your economic development organization, CINDE in Costa Rica?
Jorge Sequeira: For sure. I’d be glad to. I am the managing director at CINDE in Costa Rica. CINDE is Costa Rica’s investment promotion agency. We have been doing in existence for almost 40 years now, were established as a private, non-profit organization for the public interest in nineteen1984. We are a public-private partnership that works together with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Costa Rica’s Export Promotion Agency (PROCOMER) to develop policies and strategies to attract foreign direct investment into Costa Rica.
We work in and with strategic economic sectors such as the life sciences, information technology, and advanced manufacturing centers of excellence. Those are some of our main areas of interest. We have been successful over the years and have been attracted over 300 multinational companies to Costa Rica. Today, these businesses generate a hundred and twenty thousand direct labor jobs and approximately 60 thousand indirect sources of employment in different strategic industry sectors.
The Central American Group: As we all are aware, we are in challenging times. Our understanding is that Costa Rica has done a particularly good job in containing the global pandemic that we are now experiencing. The first case of COVID-19, however, was diagnosed on March 6, 2020.
The country has 10 registered only ten deaths up to this point and has recorded almost 1,200 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Costa Rica is the country with the lowest mortality rate for the disease in the region. How has was this outcome made this possible?
Jorge Sequeira: Well, this has been the result of a combination of factors. You would have to go back in history about seventy years when Costa Rica abolished its armed forces by the nation’s constitution. Costa Rica is the first country in the world to have done this. We took money that had prior to this been invested in the military and dedicated it to education and healthcare. We have invested heavily in our people, which, by the way, is the main reason that so many companies invest here. Our level of education and availability of talent is what sets us apart from our competitors.
Specifically, we are talking about healthcare here today. And to your question, we have developed one of the best universal health care systems in the world. In fact, it’s been ranked as one of the top five best universal health care systems in the world.
We have a national network of small community health centers that are distributed throughout the entirety of our country that has become a sort of antenna to detect any potential surge of the virus in different parts of the country. Because of this early warning system, healthcare authorities can act immediately to go to communities to immediately quarantine people infected with the virus and the individuals that are surrounding them so that they don’t become contagious. This together with an electronic health records system that was developed is maintained by our centralized a universal health care institution that enables Costa Rican public health officials to watch the situation closely and to keep the spread of the coronavirus under control.
There is a combination of factors that have helped to maintain acceptable levels of public health. Additionally, I would have to add to recognize the fact that the people of Costa Rica have responded to the health care authorities’ call for social distancing. And we, at CINDE in Costa Rica, have been able to send service company employees to work from their homes. In this sector, ninety-eight percent of personnel are getting the job done without leaving their domiciles. This, of course, enables them to contact with their colleagues at work. I think that there has been a number of things that have done right to have produced great results so far.
The Central American Group: This has been a problem all over the world. During the current outbreak, however, multinational companies that are operating in Costa Rica managed to maintain continuity in their business operations. How has this been achieved by CINDE in Costa Rica?
Jorge Sequeira: That is a really good question. This became a challenge for us almost overnight. We had to send, you know, literally hundreds of thousands of people to work from their homes. Also, you have that are companies here in Costa Rica that are conducting critical operations in areas such as cybersecurity and data analytics, finance, and human resources that are mission-critical. Some of these functions work with very confidential information that pertains to the companies themselves or their customers. Pre-coronavirus we believed that most of these jobs could not be done from home. Well, it turns out that in one, two, or three days, ninety-eight percent of these positions were successfully working from home. We learned that this could be done thanks to the very robust communication infrastructure that we have in place. We have tremendous Internet infrastructure here in Costa Rica. The fact that most of these people have connectivity from home, that they have the conditions at home to provide a variety of services, that they have the equipment, such as laptops and desktops, whatever the case may be. Because of these conditions they can deliver that service from the comfort of their own homes. With manufacturing firms, CINDE in Costa Rica had to collaborate diligently to help to create safe conditions for employees n the workplace
We formed public-private working groups to address the different issues such as logistics, for example. CINDE in Costa Rica worked with businesses to understand the new decrees related to the pandemic that have been implemented on an almost daily basis by the government.
But the fact of the matter is that we at CINDE in Costa Rica have been able to maintain a hundred percent of business continuity to all our customers, not only with just the multinationals that are operating here in Costa Rica.
Our ability to work with companies in this manner has enabled CINDE in Costa Rica to attract both manufacturing and service processes from faraway places such as China and India, as well as from closer places such as the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia and countries where they have had much difficulty in maintaining business continuity. I think we have a very nice success story to tell in terms of the resilience that we have been able to show for companies to continue to operate in this challenging environment.
The Central American Group: It’s commonly believed that it’s especially important that during, quote-unquote, downtimes like this or challenging times like this to be actively marketing. So how has CINDE in Costa Rica, your organization, continued to work during the pandemic to promoting foreign direct investment in Costa Rica?
Jorge Sequeira: Well, first and foremost, we have all understood that our number one number two, number three priority at that time was taking care of our customers.
We put all our energy, everybody, all the investment promotion people, all the marketing people, into this area of our activities.
CINDE in Costa Rica is fully behind and supportive of its current customers. We are diligently working to make sure that they can continue doing their business. We want to also ensure that they can continue operating flawlessly. That’s where we have really concentrated all our efforts during the past month or two.
Once we passed the initial stage of the virus and became accustomed to the new normal of all these companies operating from home we were able to go about doing business almost normally. We were able to begin at that point to start looking into the future.
Of course, there will certainly be a world that functions after COVID. And, you know, we have started looking and are seeing that things are picking up from where we had left off in the past. The value proposition that CINDE in Costa Rica communicates to potential foreign investors is based on three pillars: people, planet, and prosperity. We believe that this value proposition to be more relevant than ever today.
When we add to that the resiliency to our value proposition, CINDE in Costa Rica is able to effectively communicate that the country is a great place to invest.
Additionally, I think we have a very strong value proposition to present to companies that are looking to relocate closer to home, in this case, to the North American market. We believe that we have something special to offer to those companies looking to nearshore and to implement a China plus one strategy. Costa Rica absolutely has to be in that top list of candidate countries to which they can bring their operations. Again, CINDE in Costa Rica welcomes advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and, of course, services, particularly in I.T. to the country in a post-pandemic world.
The Central American Group: What are the next steps for your organization and how does CINDE in Costa plan to continue creating and offering more business opportunities for people that might want to invest in the country?
Jorge Sequeira: The key factor here is the talent of our workforce. As you know, Costa Rica doesn’t have a large internal market. We don’t have oil or any minerals or significant natural resources. The reason companies come to Costa Rica is because of our people. We addressed this point earlier in this interview of how Costa Rica began to invest in developing its talent and education many decades ago. Our strategy going forward is to continue to develop that talent that is bilingual and the talent that multinational companies are looking for. Companies, as I have already mentioned, will be looking for qualified resources that are to be found closer to home. They also want to have a cultural affinity.
Additionally, they to be able to be one flight away from their operations. Costa Rica offers these characteristics with a strong and proven rule of law and deep respect for the rule of law. We have an excellent free trade zone regime that offers zero federal tax and income tax on all kinds of items, as well as other exemptions for companies operating in Costa Rica that take advantage of free trade agreements that we have with two-thirds of the world’s GDP. This includes most of the Americas, obviously, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Europe, South Korea, China, and many, many other countries. CINDE in Costa Rica feels justified in stating that this is a perfect place for companies to come and do business.
We do, however, understand that to be successful in attracting foreign direct investment we have to be a competitive nation. We have to develop talent. We have to have the right connectivity. We have to have electricity that is redundant, high quality, and sold at competitive costs. These are areas in which we at CINDE in Costa Rica continue to make progress.
The Central American Group: One thing that was a positive and impressive development for Costa Rica is that last month it became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development, the OECD. You’ve become the 30th member. Joining this group is a clear acknowledgment that Costa Rica meets world standards that are demanding for foreign direct investment. Can you please tell us more about this positive achievement?
Jorge Sequeira: Yes, we’re proud to become the 30th member of the OECD. As you know, it’s is made up of a very select group of member states that are committed to crafting and implementing world-class public policies that benefit their citizens. Gaining entrance to this organization was a long process. It took us about eight years to get become a member and we had to go through 22 rigorous evaluations. The Costa Rican Congress had to pass many laws in order to comply with strict standards that are required of member states. But the best is just yet to come because now we will be measured against the best in the world. In many areas, be it education, infrastructure, be it in statistics in any area we will now be measuring ourselves against the best in the world standards. This means that Costa Rica will be and already has been over the last eight years on that track towards those, you know, world-class public policies in all areas, including, of course, all the business areas.
For us at CINDE in Costa Rica, being a member of the OED is sort of a certification of a country that has become one of those top countries in the world in terms of responsibility. It gives investing companies the confidence that they can come here and do business with a country that respects the intellectual property, respects human rights, and that maintains and respects the rule of law. I believe that this will really help in our efforts to attract more foreign direct investment. This is because companies will be, again, feeling more comfortable, safe in doing business in Costa Rica.
The Central American Group: Well, you and I know that we have only scratched the surface here and we could speak much more about Costa Rica and its benefits and offerings for foreign direct investors. But because we have limited time, and because we have an inquisitive audience that often has questions that are a follow-up to what has been discussed. How can people get in touch with you?
Jorge Sequeira: Well, I think the easiest way would be simply to send their questions to me at email@example.com.
The Central American Group: We often have a link to our guest’s LinkedIn page to provide another means of contact. Would it be okay to put a link to your LinkedIn page and perhaps people could learn a little bit more about you?
Jorge Sequeira: Of course. No problem.
The Central American Group: All right. I want to thank you for taking the time this morning to speak with us. I want to wish you a lot of luck in terms of your expertise and great success for Costa Rica.
Jorge Sequeira: Thank you. I’ve been corrected. The best email to contact me at is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Central American Group: Ok, email@example.com it is. We hope that you at CINDE in Costa Rica receive a lot of questions from people that are interested in doing business in your country.
Jorge Sequeira: Well, we’ll be glad to answer their questions and to see them in Costa Rica.
The Central American Group: Thank you very much and have a great day and again, thank you for joining
Jorge Sequeira: Thank you, Steve. Take care.