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Editorial

Ecological mega-diversity combined with a strong commitment to wildlife conservation have gained Costa Rica a reputation as among the most naturally beautiful countries in the region, factors that have long fostered the country’s tourism industry. However, with its decade-long macroeconomic continuity and even lengthier political stability, its openness to foreign trade and investments and comparably high education levels, the “pura vida” nation is also among the most prosperous economies in Central America. Its economic fundamentals, namely tourism, agriculture and the renewable energy sector, all contribute to a steadily growing economy, but the country’s healthy GDP growth rate –currently forecast at 4% for 2017– is also increasingly supported by a thriving service industry, a booming real estate sector and strong technology and pharma exports. Optimism about the country’s economic future was further boosted during the first quarter of 2017, when unemployment rates hit a two-year low and consumer spending grew. But while Costa Rica’s fiscal performance improved in 2016, further fiscal tightening and expenditure restraints are necessary to reduce the budget deficit, an issue the ruling centre-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) government has been trying to tackle since its election in 2014. However, with a general election scheduled for February 2018, further tax and public spending reforms are unlikely to become law before then –primarily as a result of the currently prevailing legislative gridlock that has seen reform proposals stranded in the Legislative Assembly since 2015.

Costa Rica’s economic success story over the last two decades has also contributed to the creation of a very sophisticated legal market, which recently saw the arrival of its first international firm: Dentons entered the market in late 2016 by merging with parts of former Arias & Muñoz, subsequently creating Dentons Muñoz; the former regional heavyweight had announced its dissolution in November 2016, and while much of its former San José office joined the global player, two Costa Rican partners and their team operate under what is now known simply as Arias and continue to work as one of the firm’s six offices across the region. The presence of a new player has only served to heighten competition and the demand for talent in an already congested market which includes regional players Consortium Legal, BLP, Pacheco Coto and Aguilar Castillo Love as well as domestic player Facio & Cañas which all currently dominate the very active M&A market in Costa Rica. And while investments in the tourism, real estate and energy sectors generate sufficient high-profile work for other traditionally strong firms such as Batalla Abogados, Sfera LegalCentral Law Costa Rica and low-profile regional operator Nassar Abogados, an increasing number of firms have also widened their service-offering to attract mandates in sectors including compliance and antitrust. The labour and IP arenas remain a stronghold for more specialised firms, with boutique firm Zürcher Lawyers and specialists BDS Asesores at the forefront of these sectors, respectively.

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