Economy of Costa Rica

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Costa Rica > Map Economy History

Costa Rica's economy showed strong aggregate growth in 1998-1999. The Central Bank attributes almost half of 1999 growth to the production of Intel Corporation's microprocessor assembly and testing plant. The strength in the nontraditional export and tourism sector is masking a relatively lackluster performance by traditional sectors, including agriculture. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, was 11% in 2001, up from 10.3% the year before. The central government deficit increased to 3.0% of GDP in 2001, up from 2.2% from the year before. On a consolidated basis, including Central Bank losses and parastatal enterprise profits, the public sector deficit was 2.8% of GDP.

Controlling the budget deficit remains the single biggest challenge for the country's economic policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumes the equivalent of 30% of the government's total revenues. Approximately 42% of the 2001 national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and ecotourists.

Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Abbott Laboratories and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the U.S. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Tourism also is booming, with the number of visitors up from 780,000 in 1996 to more than 1.1 million in 2001. Tourism is now the largest foreign exchange earner.

The country has not discovered sources of fossil fuels--apart from minor coal deposits-- but its mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in most energy needs, except oil for transportation. Costa Rica exports electricity to Nicaragua and has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. One challenge will be how to secure payment for these exports. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although some of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. The main highland cities in the country's Central Valley are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Costa Rica's ports are struggling to keep pace with growing trade. They have insufficient capacity, and their equipment is in poor condition. The railroad does not function, with the exception of a couple of spurs reactivated by a U.S.-owned banana company. The government opened the ports and the railroad to competitive bidding opportunities for private investment and management but U.S. companies chose not to participate in this process.

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors are discussing the possibility of negotiating a free trade agreement with the U.S. Costa Rica also is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas, a process that the Costa Rican Government chaired in preparation for the April 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile. It also is a member of the so-called Cairns Group which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization in the World Trade Organization.

GDP: purchasing power parity - $25 billion (2000 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 7% (1999 est.), 3% (2000 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $6,700 (2000 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture:  12.5%
industry:  30.7%
services:  56.8% (1999)
Population below poverty line: 20.6% (1999 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 1.3%
highest 10%: 34.7% (1996)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 10.8% (1999 est.), 11% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 1.9 million (1999)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 20%, industry 22%, services 58% (1999 est.)
Unemployment rate: 5.2% (2000 est.)
revenues:  $1.95 billion
expenditures:  $2.4 billion (2000 est.)
Industries: microprocessors, food processing, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products
Industrial production growth rate: 24.5% (1999), 4.3% (2000)
Electricity - production: 5.805 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel:  2.41%
hydro:  83.32%
nuclear:  0%
other:  14.27% (1999)
Agriculture - products: coffee, bananas, sugar, corn, rice, beans, potatoes; beef; timber
Exports: $6.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999 est.), $6.1 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Exports - commodities: coffee, bananas, sugar; pineapples; textiles, electronic components, medical equipment
Exports - partners: US 49%, EU 22%, Central America 10% (1999)
Imports: $6.5 billion (c.i.f., 1999 est.), $5.9 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports - commodities: raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum
Imports - partners: US 56.4%, EU 9%, Mexico 5.4%, Japan 4.7%, (1999)
Debt - external: $4.2 billion (2000 est.)
Currency: Costa Rican colon (CRC)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Costa Rica > Map Economy History