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Francisco Álvarez de Soto

PANAMA - Diplomacy

At the Helm

Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of Panama

Bio

Francisco Álvarez De Soto was born in Panama City, but has lived in Spain, the UK, Switzerland, and the US. He studied Economic Policy and Politics at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has also completed courses at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Universidad Latina de Panamá. He practiced privately in the fields of international and business law before moving to the Council of Foreign Trade as a lawyer and negotiator with the European Union in 1998. He established ALVES & Co. in 2001, and later moved on to become Director of Law and Regulations in Cable & Wireless Panamá, the largest telecommunications firm in Central America. Prior to returning to private practice in 2013, he served as Vice-Minister of International Commercial Negotiations and Secretary General of Foreign Relations, overseeing a number of significant bilateral legal agreements. In February 2014 he was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs for Panama.

"I think that for the last five years we have achieved a lot at a regional level and in placing Panama in the international arena."

How would you assess bilateral relations between Panama and the US?

We enjoy a rich history of positive bilateral relations with the US. Our ties are a key element in our foreign affairs policies and strategy. This has always been the case, regardless of the administration in power.

How have ties with the EU evolved since the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) in August 2013?

Following the signing of this FTA, relations between Panama and the EU definitely changed and ensured stronger regional ties between Central America and Europe. This, along with the fact that Panama is the main investment partner of the EU in the region, also means more responsibility for our country when looking at ties between Panama and the EU. The trade pillar is, of course, accompanied by both a political and cooperative agreement. It will lead our country to put more emphasis on global matters that have importance also for the EU. We have shown this by being more outspoken on the Syrian and Iranian situation, both of which are pressing issues for Brussels.

“I think that for the last five years we have achieved a lot at a regional level and in placing Panama in the international arena.”

Since Panama has shown interest in being part of the Pacific Alliance, what’s the relevance of such a partnership for the country?

Joining the Pacific Alliance is a normal and natural move for Panama, a country that has been moving forward in terms of regional trade integration. In this context, we are already partners with the founding members of the Alliance and we aim at closing a future agreement with Mexico, a country with which we have also had long historical ties. We are confident and hopeful to conclude a trade agreement with Mexico before President Martinelli finishes his term in office. Therefore, taking this context into consideration, it is only normal that Panama advances to a new stage, which is joining the Pacific Alliance. If we have not done it before, it has been due to technical issues regarding the conclusion of trade agreements with some of the members of the Alliance. Ultimately, we see the Pacific Alliance as a key element for advancing our strategy to become closer with Asia. In fact, Martinelli’s administration has always stated its aim to sign trade agreements with South Korea and, hopefully, Japan. We also have an important flow of trade with China. The Pacific Alliance is to become a key element in the process of the transformation and development of Panama’s foreign affairs policies and strategies.

How could Panama benefit from closer ties with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region?

I think both countries can benefit from closer ties; the Dominican Republic considers itself as a gateway to the Caribbean region, something Panama also believes of itself, in terms of transport, capacity and trade. It is normal and natural for Panama to have such a belief, as we are both situated in the middle of the American continent. I think Panama is another platform for Caribbean countries, and therefore we can complement each other in a balanced way. For us, bilateral ties with the Dominican Republic are key and they have helped us to better address issues in the Caribbean region and to better understand its realities.

Which sectors have the most potential to further develop trade ties with the Dominican Republic?

Panama is a services-oriented economy, so we believe that we can provide the Dominican Republic with excellent services to support its foreign trade. At the same time, I think we can benefit from light-manufacturing works from the Dominican Republic. For example, the light-manufacturing sector could benefit significantly from closer ties between both countries, as well as the agriculture industry. In this context, the agriculture industry would also include equipment, fertilizers, and related products.

What are your foreign affairs priorities for 2014?

As a minister, I want to put more emphasis on finishing off President Martinelli’s term in as successful a way as possible. When I took charge of the ministry I promised to take Panama’s foreign affairs vessel to a safe port. I think that for the last five years we have achieved a lot at a regional level and in placing Panama in the international arena. I want to consolidate the good relations that have been established during this term. In addition, I will continue pushing forward that idea of Panama as a small but influential country, whose main goal is to engage with all the international players while working to preserve the interests of our country. That sort of standing will be Martinelli’s legacy at the end of his term, and we have to hand over a positive aggregate after five years of working at the helm of the ministry.

© The Business Year – February 2014

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