December 5, 2018 Print

La Asociación de Consumidores Libres de Costa Rica (Association of Free Consumers, or ACL) was created to defend the right of consumers to free choice and the right to trade. As part of its work, ACL works to deliver low prices to consumers — prices that in the past have been subject to the whims of rent-seeking and policymakers. One such consumer good that has been subjected to trade barriers in Costa Rica has been rice.

“We have had a very long battle against agriculture protectionism, mainly with rice production because it absorbs more that 90 percent of all agriculture subsidies,” said Juan Ricardo Fernández, president of ACL. “Subsidies to rice producers in the past 20 years may add up to more than $1 billion USD. What is more obscene is that most of those subsidies goes to the hands of 3 to 5 very rich producers.”

Earlier in 2018, ACL obtained a final judgment from the highest Court of the Republic of Costa Rica that ordered the nullification of decrees that allowed for the price fixing of rice, which had come at the expense of the consumer. ACL similarly obtained, within the process of an unconstitutionality action, a positive report from the Attorney General's Office that said the government should not impose temporary barriers to the importation of vehicles based on their year of manufacture, which would have prevented consumers from choosing the latest in technology.

“Studies showed that agriculture protectionism (high import tariffs for agriculture products) generates an overprice that represents 41 percent of the budget the poorest families (lower income quintile) in Costa Rica,” continued Fernández. “That include very high tariffs in rice, chicken, meat, dairy products, and others. Basically, the most important products of the Costa Rican families (mostly the poorest).”

ACL has been quite active in asserting the interests of consumers vis-à-vis disruptive technologies and businesses. A main component of its work in this regard in advocating for the rights of ride-sharing companies to operate in Costa Rica. Because companies like Uber deliver value and freedom of choice to consumers, these companies have become quite popular around the world. With over 20,000 estimated drivers and 700,000 users, Costa Ricans have taken to using ride-sharing platforms despite an uneven and uncertain history with the legality of such services as the Costa Rican government has made it difficult to operate in the country.

ACL’s activism in various areas all serves the interests of consumers, who enjoy greater freedom of choice and lower prices thanks to ACL’s work.

La Asociación de Consumidores Libres de Costa Rica is a recipient of Atlas Network's Liberating Enterprise to Advance Prosperity grant, which supports think tanks with ambitious but achievable plans to improve the public policy and regulatory environment in their countries. Successful grant recipients identify viable and worthwhile reforms that represent local priorities and local visions for change.