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PANAMA - Economy

Carmen Gisela Vergara Mas

Executive Director, PROPANAMA

Bio

Carmen Gisela Vergara Mas is an esteemed expert in International Trade Law, Business Development, Trade Negotiations, Integration, and Trade Facilitation. With over 25 years of experience in Panama and the region, she has held influential positions, including serving as Secretary General of the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) and as Minister of Trade and Industries. Vergara has made significant contributions to regional economic cooperation and industry advocacy. She has also been a prominent speaker at various events and has written specialized articles for local and international publications. With her strong educational background and extensive expertise, Vergara is recognized as a leading authority in international trade law and business development.

"Energy and tourism are two key areas of a country’s sustainable strategy."
TBY talks to Carmen Gisela Vergara Mas, Executive Director of PROPANAMA, about sustainability, investment promotion, and working with international partners.
What are PROPANAMA’s main initiatives related to sustainability?

Energy and tourism are two key areas of a country’s sustainable strategy. Energy is needed to promote any kind of endeavor, and Panama is aiming to makie the matrix even more sustainable. Right now, it is about 85% renewable; in fact, in some months last year, over 90% of the energy that was used in Panama came from renewable sources. The Energy Transition Strategy is moving in that direction and we already have the biggest wind farm in the region. In 2022, we doubled our solar park, and more companies and homes are now using solar technology. We are also promoting urban mobility through electricity, the management of waste to produce energy, and new sources of energy such as green hydrogen, which is the star of our energy transition strategy. The energy transition strategy has identified projects from now until 2030 that total over USD4 billion in potential investments for Panama to achieve the desired transformation level. Being Panama a country rich in biodiversity, the tourism sector could not be absent in a sustainable strategy, especially since it is also one of the oldest engines of progress in the country. Our country has a variety of offers for all types of tourists, specially the conscientious tourist. For instance, now we have a new tourism strategy to 2025 that is highly innovative and environment friendly. It is based on nature conservation and research, and it proposes Panama as a living lab for conscious tourists to not only come and learn about the country, but also contribute positively to its development. We are also promoting sports tourism, conventions and gastronomy because we have many cultures in Panama, and our cuisine has been influenced by all these cultures, developing our own take with a Panamanian touch. All these go hand in hand with business tourism because we have the biggest convention center in the region and excellent connections to the entire Americas with Copa Airlines 300 flights per day to over 80 cities, not to mention the airlines form Europe and the Middle East that also offer direct flights to Panama, this include low income airlines like WINGO and SANSA And thanks to the Stop Over On a different aspect of the tourism offer, we seek to promote everything related to medical tourism. We started with cosmetic procedures and are now moving on to more complex procedures. For example, we have a group of doctors in the country doing amazing things with stem cell to treat degenerative diseases.

How does PROPANAMA support the development of sports, talent, and manufacturing activities in Panama?

PROPANAMA promotes local talent through its participation in fairs and exhibitions in different sectors, fashion is one on them, as part of the creative industries sector, showcasesing our local designers and their work at international events. Fashion has a very extensive value chain and the possibility to include many different activities and therefore to impact many areas of the economy. Another example of this is the World Robotic Olympics, which Panama will be hosting in November, as part of the efforts to mainstream STEM education in our public schools, creating more opportunities for our youth to prepare and adapt better to the transformations of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We complement Panama’s state of the art infrastructure with our commercial agreements with 59 countries around the world. That opens the door to over 1.5 billion consumers globally instead of just the 4 million people who live here. For companies that want to manufacture in Panama, we provide not only all the benefits that have been negotiated in these agreements, but also over 40 different investment laws for different kinds of commercial activities. For manufacturing, we have several alternatives, depending on the specific product and business stage. For instance, the Colon Free Zone is an excellent place for repacking and redistribution, it is the second largest free zone in the world, after Hong Kong, and in those 400 hectars we have over 2,000 companies that do re-packaging and redistribution of products as well as cargo services throughout the Americas. The City of Knowledge, a former US military base, is perfect for the research and development stage of production in its Tec park installation. In the 17 private free trade zones in Panama, we have over 200 companies manufacturing everything from medicines to rum. Panama Pacifico, another former US military base, is now being transformed into a progressive development center that is already attracting companies from all over the world, like Dell, PEPSICO and 3M.

Who are PROPANAMA’s main international partners, and how do they contribute to promoting investment in Panama and exports?

We have over 30 international partners currently, and part of our strategy is to successfully collaborate with either bilateral chambers or chambers within the countries that we target to either attract FDI or as a place for our export offerings. We cannot single out anyone because they are all equally important to us. Whenever we travel, whether it is for a commercial fair or an investment mission, we rely on our partners to connect us to the right people in the country we visit, namely, those who are interested in investment in Panama or in buying our goods or services to promote in their countries. We continue to grow our base of contacts internationally so that we can better promote Panama. For our international missions, we always partner with the private sector of the country of destination, which key, because the private sector is the one doing the investments. Whenever someone comes to invest in a country, the first thing they need is a lawyer, banker, or real estate agent to hit the ground running. Accordingly, we always include the private sector in our international missions, and the Chamber of Commerce of Panama, which is one of our best allies in promoting externally, as well as the Export Association of Panama, are usually members of our missions. There are also groups such as the Specialty Coffee Growers, with whom we also work closely, including travelling to specialized coffee events or promoting Panama’s export offering because Panamanian coffee is one of the best examples of how to globalize the country’s brand by developing niche markets. We also travel extensively with the Lawyers’ Association of Panama, the Banking Association, the Real Estate Association, and private sector companies that approach us when we announce a particular country visit because they are interested in that market and want to be part of that mission. Local partners are extremely important to us; they are the ones that tell the story of Panama and are actually doing the business. PROPANAMA is not a business organization; we are a government entity tasked with promoting Panama Internationally. It is the private sector that will conduct the business and will continue to do so long after those of us who are serving here today have moved on. One special ally is FedEx, who is helping us promote more international trade, thanks to an MOU signed in February, allowing for discounts and special assistance to our exporters. Or the US National Supermarket Association, helping our products to find a market in the United States. And those are just some examples of how our strategic partners help us promote Panama.

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