UPDATE: Nov 21, 2019
Promotion of New Export Goods and Tourism to Strengthen Relationship with Japan
—– How would you describe the features of Honduras to Japanese people?
Honduras is located the middle of the Central America with coasts facing both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, which is a great advantage in terms of trade, commerce, and tourism. We gained independence in 1821. Honduras was home to the ancient Mayan civilization, and the Maya Site of Copán in western Honduras has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Besides this site, our tourist attractions include historical architectures from our colonial era, and also the beach resorts on both coasts. Large cruise ships visit our Caribbean beaches every week. We are home to the second largest coral reef in the world. We also have the famous Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve which is also a World Heritage site and one of the largest protected areas in the region. Honduras is in the center of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that extends from Mexico to Panama, and has established the first transboundary biosphere reserve in America with Guatemala and El Salvador, the Trifinio Reserve.
—–Japan and Honduras will celebrate 85 years of diplomatic relations next year. How do you overview the development of our bilateral relations?
Japan is one of our major development partners. Japanese cooperation, through JICA and other means, have been supporting Honduras for more than 40 years in infrastructure development (roads, disaster risk reduction), productivity enhancement (agricultural irrigation), and education (mathematics and arts). We have received more than 1,000 JICA volunteers. JICA’s continuous support in disaster prevention has been highly effective and well recognized. Honduras and Japan share many fundamental values such as commitment to the rule of law, human rights and free markets that has led to a number of collaborations to strengthen the multilateral systems via the United Nations and other agencies. Japan is also one of our major trade partners in Asia. We see the biggest increase in the export of coffee to Japan. Other export commodities are cacao beans, shrimp, melons, textiles, etc. We are importing machinery, electronics, and automobiles. The investment by Japanese companies is mainly in the areas of infrastructure, real estate, etc. in Honduras.
—–As Ambassador to Japan, what is your priority mission for further strengthening the bilateral ties?
My goal is to maintain the solid bilateral relationship and to make it even more so by broadening our exchange in all fields. Introducing more of our products to the Japanese market, such as automotive parts, beef, sesame, tobacco, and also to promote Honduras as a tourist destination. I also pay particular attention to academic cooperation between universities, and between universities and the government. This includes opportunities for students from Honduras to come to Japan, facilitating exchanges between teachers and visiting professors to expand general knowledge, and finally promoting Honduran artists to come to Japan for cultural exchanges.
—–Would you tell us the current economic situation in Honduras?
Our government is taking many steps to making the country more attractive for investment and trade, and has expanded the facilities and logistic services in Puerto Cortés, the biggest port on the Caribbean side of the Central America. The United States has a customs office there so that the products shipped from Puerto Cortés have already cleared the U.S. customs. Also, the customs union with the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) will improve our trade and competitiveness. The 3 countries in the Central American region have free trade agreements with the U.S., South Korea, among others. Companies from the U.S., Europe, Taiwan, South Korea, etc. have entered in the maquiladora industry.
—–Honduras will chair the Central American Integration System (SICA) in the first half of 2020. What are the main challenges of regional economic and social integration?
Honduras wants to extend the “Northern Triangle” customs union to the rest of the Central America and bring the SICA closer to the other similar regional integration mechanisms. The SICA has fluid dialogues with the EU, Turkey, Morocco, among others. It’s also important to re-dynamize the SICA’s relationship with Japan. We want to resume the SICA-Japan forum for the first time in 5 years, while the next year marks the 85th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Honduras and Japan.
—–What measures are being taken to address the issue of migration from Central America to Mexico and the United States?
It’s a very complex issue. There is a common understanding that the way to decrease migration is by changing the conditions that motivate this migration. Therefore, the Plan of the Alliance of Prosperity was formulated by the Northern Triangle countries to improve the social conditions through economic development, job creation, access to healthcare and education, etc. The fight against organized crime remains a big challenge, but the decrease in organized crimes has also reflected in an economic slowdown in small businesses in the affected areas. This was an unanticipated consequence of fighting organized crimes. There has been a recent slowdown in migration, but is a medium-term issue for us to continue tackling.
(Interviewed by Shu Tamaru, FEC Counsellor)