PANAMA - Economy
Executive Director, PROPANAMA
Graduated in Law and Political Science from the University of Panama, holds a Masters Degree in Banking and Financial Law from the University of El Externado in Colombia and a Postgraduate Degree in International Trade Negotiations from the University of Santiago de Chile. Prior to the position of Executive Director of PROPANAMA, the Agency for Investment Attraction and Export Promotion of the Panamanian Government, Mrs. Vergara served as Executive Director of the Federation of Chambers and Industrial Associations of Central America and the Dominican Republic – FECAICA and as Secretary General of the Secretariat of Central American Economic Integration SIECA, making important progress in the Central American integration process. Prior to that position, she was Director to the Board of Directors of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration – CABEI, representing Panama. Expert in International Trade Law, Business Development, Trade Negotiations, Trade Integration and Facilitation, she has also served as Minister of Trade and Industries, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and National Director of Investment and Export Promotion of the Ministry of Trade and Industries of the Republic of Panama. In addition, Mrs. Vergara has been Manager of the Business Technological Accelerator of the City of Knowledge and Deputy Director of Pro – Panama, among other positions.
How has PROPANAMA leveraged the country’s connectivity—whether in terms of logistics, finance, nearshoring capacity, or as a regional headquarters destination—to attract more FDI and trade?
In today’s world, most everything is a click away. Connectivity is a very important part of our lives. And it is only going to grow as the world embarks on a recovery process. Being connected is crucial to do so many things like watching a movie, ordering food, or buying any article we need from books and music to clothes and computers. And Panama is no stranger to fostering connectivity. At a glance, we have two of the most active ports in Latin America, with access to 144 maritime routes and 1,700 ports all over the world, and 89 aerial destinations reaching 38 countries directly from the Hub of the Americas; we are also the meeting point of seven continental fiber optic cables, with two additional ones on the way, which account for 100% of regional internet traffic, 97% of international voice traffic, and 90% of data transmission. We also have one of the broadest networks of commercial trade agreements in Latin America, totaling 21 agreements that give preferential access to over 55 countries and 1.3 billion consumers worldwide. PROPANAMA coordinates the national effort to boost the country’s participation in the international economy, attract investment, and promote exports. The privileged geographic position of our country and our proven track record as a logistics hub and a services center are characteristics that make our offer for nearshoring and regional headquarters interesting for FDI. In fact, over 170 companies have already made Panama their regional headquarters, six of them last year in the mist of the pandemic. Our logistics hub, digital hub and food hub, as well as drivers like tourism and manufacturing, are amongst the principal areas where Panama is aiming to attract FDI.
Looking ahead, what must Panama do to further increase its connectivity advantages?
Panama, as the rest of the global economy, understands the need to generate decisive action to rebuild its economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. To do so, it is crucial not just to revise our medium and long-term goals, but instead to introduce fresh thinking about the ways those ambitions and aspirations can set in motion a multi-stakeholder change process. Panama is in a privileged position to do this. For years, my country has been successfully leveraging its strategic position in the global trade and investment landscape, generating sustained growth to graduate from a middle-income country to a high-income country in a single generation. However, we firmly believe that the benefits of growth need to be more evenly distributed. This is the reason our national investment strategy targets sustainable investments with a social impact. It accounts for indicators that ensure all investments have a positive impact in key measures, including gender equality, the environment, and generating shared prosperity, especially among those communities traditionally left behind. Communications, data management, and the creation of innovative content and solutions to old and new problems will be an intrinsic part of the global recovery process. Both countries and companies will rely on data and communications to reach their stakeholders, plan their strategies, and generate innovation in their products and services. Panama is in a unique position to help companies recover better, as our digital platform offers the opportunity for safe and reliable data storage and the management and development of content, for areas such as logistics, aviation, pharma, financial services, agriculture, and many others.
What would your message be to potential international investors and trade partners regarding what the future holds in store for the country?
Panama has always been a center for connection, mobility, and sustainability. Since we emerged from the ocean to connect the land masses of North and South America, we have always served as a bridge for people and trade. True to our purpose, we have consolidated our mission with the expansion of the Panama Canal to ensure cargo movement for another 100 years; the Hub of the Americas expanding with a new terminal at Tocumen Airport, to ensure more people will be able to move safely and comfortably within the Americas and connect to other continents; and more recently, the integration of fiber-optic cables that pass through our country, becoming also a communication highway, moving data to and from the region, that is also growing with the addition of Google’s Curie Cable. Panama is no stranger to sustainable investments like the Panama Canal, which essentially moves over 6% of the world’s trade, with a renewable resource like water. And we want to help companies recover better by making use of the unique advantages and expertise we have to offer. Especially now that the global value chains are becoming more regional and there are so many opportunities in sustainable development for corporate investors to rebalance their global value chains by expanding, relocating, or consolidating operations. With a broad range of tax-free corporate incentives, globally recognized free trade zones and financial services, the one-and-only Panama Canal, and great quality of life in one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, we are truly the place to be to recover better.
What is your outlook for the rest of 2021?
In 2021, Panama is seeking to build up the lessons it has learned in all the economic sectors we have promoted, into a system-wide transformation. This means recalibrating the collaboration between the public and private sector, exploring new avenues, and generating incentives for innovation across finance, trade, investment, human capital, and agriculture, and striving for both consistency and ambition. This is of course a huge challenge, and this is where governments can greatly benefit from partnerships with the private and academic sectors and multilateral entities looking to make a difference and help countries recover better. Thinking ahead, we have now elevated the status of the agency to an independent authority that will consolidate the mandate of attracting investments and promoting exports, in alliance with the public and private sector stakeholders, making our country’s value proposition more interesting and accessible to potential investors.
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