In 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to provide Costa Rica with a $1.7 billion loan “to support Costa Rica’s recovery and stabilization from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Although the Costa Rican government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was effective, economic improvements are stagnant. Costa Rica’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the COVID-19 pandemic created a significant halt in this sector. The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would help create jobs in high-demand areas and improve the resiliency of businesses.
Economic Challenges During COVID-19
The World Bank indicates that Costa Rica’s economy expanded over the last quarter of a century, with poverty rates lower than other Latin American countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the economy to decline by 4.6% in 2020. As a result, “one out of five workers” experienced unemployment by the last quarter of 2020 and the poverty rate in Costa Rica increased to 13%. As the situation improves, the economy expects to grow by 2.6% in 2021 and 3.3% in 2022.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that besides the pandemic, Costa Rica’s increased budget deficits and debt could have played a role in the recent economic destruction. Since the Costa Rican government had to provide additional funding for social and health programs, the budget deficits would grow further. Therefore, a strong recovery plan is necessary to lower deficits and improve Costa Rica’s economic situation.
Tourism: A Struggling Industry
According to Reuters, Costa Rica’s economy struggled since “hotel and trade shrank by 40% last year.” The pandemic and tourism produced 8.5% of its gross domestic product. At the beginning of 2021, fewer tourists visited than in previous years, indicating that economic recovery could take a while. However, officials in the tourism industry remain optimistic for more tourists in the future since many attractions are outdoors and there are fewer concerns about the virus spreading in open areas.
However, the amount of COVID-19 cases in Costa Rica was at its highest point from the end of April 2021 into early May 2021, leading to decreased levels of tourism. The U.S. even issued a travel advisory warning for citizens planning to visit Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government attempted to help the tourism sector by indicating that industries such as tourism did not need to impose new COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, several groups of international tourists canceled their plans to visit.
Officials aim to improve economic conditions by expanding sustainable tourism. This would benefit the environment and help small businesses. The Minister of Tourism explained that expanding this industry would increase employees’ incomes and allow tourists to see different attractions. Officials introduced this plan to the national bank to see if it could consider using additional recovery strategies such as credits or implementing changes in rates.
Overcoming the Economic Challenges
So far, the Costa Rican government has made several efforts to assist those most impacted by the pandemic. It distributed grants to at least 700,000 citizens who suffered the most during the pandemic. It also had businesses impose strict health precautions, preventing a massive spread of the virus and further economic downturn.
Al Jazeera states that the Costa Rican government began working with the IMF to obtain a loan that would go toward tax reform and selling assets. The IMF’s assistance would also help Costa Rica pay off part of the significant debt accumulated within the past few decades.
The IMF’s assistance expects to cover a three-year time frame to improve economic conditions and reduce poverty rates. The Costa Rican government also plans to put the loan toward strategies that could boost employment. The IMF reports that the majority of those facing unemployment are women and youths. Various career fields in Costa Rica need employees and many companies are struggling to hire due to the pandemic.
The Costa Rican government thinks increased spending on social services would allow more women to enter the workforce since these programs will ease the burden of many familial caretaking responsibilities often resting on the shoulders of women. In addition, the government wants to pass legislation that aims to improve the education system to increase the possibility of employment opportunities in higher-paying jobs.
The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would mitigate the current economic situation by addressing the root causes of high unemployment rates and income inequality. This effort would contribute to further development and potentially allow Costa Rica’s economy to reach pre-pandemic rates of growth.
– Cristina Velaz