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September 26, 2017

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Oscar Alvarez: Wooing Taiwan investmemts to Costa Rica

For a Central American ambassador to Taiwan, Oscar Alvarez might have one of the easiest jobs compared to his other Latin counterparts. While the role of ambassador is never a bed of roses, Alvarez has an ace up his sleeve.

This is because in addition to his role working to improve and strengthen relations between the Republic of Costa Rica and the Republic of China, Alvarez also strives to woo Taiwan companies to invest in his small Latin nation. Yet, not too many information technology (IT) companies look with much enthusiasm at Central America.

That was until Intel decided to move in.

Three years ago, semiconductor company Intel opened its first South American manufacturing plant in Costa Rica, and this seemingly small investment has restructured the nation's entire economy.

Alvarez said semiconductors have since become the main driver of the economy, pushing tourism into second place and exports of coffee and bananas into third. Now, Costa Rica's chances of attracting other IT companies to invest have greatly improved.

"When Intel chose to set up in my country it was because of the high level of education in Costa Rica. This was very important to their decision," said Alvarez. "We are a country that invests in education."

In fact, the ambassador said that the nation's public universities are better than most of the private ones and that since the 1800s, primary education has been mandatory in Costa Rica leading to a literacy rate of over 95 percent.

The high level of education has also resulted in a large number of engineers and technicians, a strong advantage for IT companies setting up operations in the Latin American country, said Alvarez, and a fact that helped Costa Rica edge out Mexico, Brazil and Chile for the Intel plant.

So far, Intel's arrival has been nothing but good news for the economy, explained Alvarez.

In its first full year, Intel helped that economy grow over eight percent, with the U.S. company directly contributing to five percent of that growth. Besides employing some 2,000 Costa Ricans, Intel's exports comprised 40 percent of the nation's total exports, three times as many exports as coffee and bananas.

Three huge buildings are located not far from the San Jose airport, and between 20 percent to 25 percent of Intel's total global production of Pentium 4 and Xeon processors are manufactured in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica's image as a safe haven amidst the turbulent political environment found in many Central and South American countries also proved alluring to Intel. Some even call Costa Rica the "Switzerland of Central America" due to its high standard of living and its stable government.

Alvarez said such comparisons are accurate. "We don't have wars, we don't have guerrillas. We offer peace, and peace with a market economy."

Now that the one of the world's largest and strongest IT companies has found a home in Costa Rica, officials are hoping other will follow. Foreign Minister Roberto Rojas claims that consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble's new logistics site in Costa Rica is a direct result of Intel's investment.

As for Taiwan companies, Acer has had an office in the small Central American country for the past five years, but so far there are no plans to expand that presence.

Yet, Costa Ricans are optimistic and they claim they are not looking to become the Latin American high-tech hub because they say Costa Rica offers many advantages to companies in all sorts of industries.

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