2018 OECD Economic Surveys: Costa Rica 2018

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Costa Rica has achieved strong levels of well-being. However, many institutional obstacles are hampering more robust growth and the spreading of its gains more widely. Setting in motion a “virtuous cycle” of inclusive growth will require reforms across several policy areas that present win-win opportunities in terms of equity and productivity improvements. Rebalancing spending towards early childhood and secondary education would improve outcomes and equity and also help increasing the low level of participation of women in the labour market. Costa Rica should move from the current emphasis on education spending towards outcome policy targets, supported by performance indicators. Policies to reduce labour market informality should continue, including greater enforcement of obligations to pay social security contributions and a gradual move to a smaller number of minimum wages. Eliminating unjustified exemptions from competition would boost productivity growth. Fiscal imbalances remain the major threat to growth and living standards in the medium term. A comprehensive fiscal reform package is needed to bring to a halt the fast rising debt-to-GDP ratio, including measures to increase tax revenues and curb spending, strengthen the budgetary framework with a new, operational fiscal rule and restrict earmarking.


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Structural policies to boost productivity and inclusion

Owing to past structural reforms, Costa Rica has enjoyed robust GDP growth and productivity levels are gradually converging towards the OECD average. However, large GDP per capita and productivity gaps persist. In addition, not everyone has benefited from this growth. Inequality has increased and labour market conditions are a concern. Costa Rica has a lower share of employed workers in the population than almost all OECD countries, unemployment remains well above its pre-global-financial-crisis level, labour market participation has decreased and the share of informal jobs is high. Recognising these challenges, Costa Rica has accelerated its structural reform momentum recently, with policy reforms underway or planned in several areas that present win-win opportunities to boost both productivity and inclusion. These include efforts to tackle labour market informality, simplify the minimum wage structure, increase competition and reduce regulatory burdens. In addition to further reforms in these priority areas, structural policy improvements are also needed to increase outcomes and reduce inequalities in education and address significant transport infrastructure gaps.



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