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PANAMA - Diplomacy

Laurentino Cortizo Cohen

President, Panama

Bio

Laurentino Cortizo Cohen is President of Panama.

“Revitalizing the traditional engines of economic growth and promoting the emergence of new ones is certainly high on our collective agenda.”
Panama is moving forward with its government plan to implement initiatives that will encourage good governance, rule of law, and a competitive economy that generates employment for all Panamanians and tackles inequality.
What strategies has your administration followed to foster national interests and strengthen Panama’s potential?

We are currently facing a post-pandemic scenario like the rest of the world, coping with ways to accelerate our main economic sectors, and focusing on a more sustainable approach on the road to economic reactivation. Panama has always been successful in taking advantage of its privileged geographical and strategic position in the global economy. It has also transitioned from being a mid-income country to becoming a high-income one in a short period of time. The pandemic has certainly made governments reevaluate their strategies and focus on the main economic sectors and develop action plans that will ensure a more sustainable future with the correct use of our resources. The transition to a green economy is imminent and necessary and has been one of the main goals of this office’s management. Investment in key sectors such as health, infrastructure, and tourism will grant social economic and political growth. In Panama, since 2019, both the government and civil society have carried out the Action Plan Uniting FORCES (Uniendo Fuerzas) with specific and concrete actions through an efficient and dynamic strategy, aligned with the previous National Plan Panama 20-30 for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We believe that the benefits of economic growth have to be potentiated in order to create opportunities for every citizen, and we are ready and committed to face the multiple challenges that we need to face in order to achieve this. That is why our national investment strategy tries to focus on sustainable investments with a strong social impact, ensuring equal opportunities for everybody and promoting gender equality, which is extremely important for the continuous growth of the nation. We are working on strengthening the cooperation between the public and private sectors in order to generate improvements and create new and effective policies that will benefit the main investment, trade, and financial operations maximizing human capital. The economic muscle of the private sector represents a major asset on the road to economic growth; therefore, the mutual understanding and cooperation between this two sectors is by all means necessary.

How would you assess the years of the pandemic, and what steps has Panama taken to overcome the respective challenges that the country faced?

Panama suffered one of the most serious COVID-19 outbreaks in Latin America and the Caribbean; our GDP contracted by 17.9% in 2020, while unemployment soared to levels never seen before. The government responded to the COVID-19 crisis effectively by adapting and implementing an extremely efficient vaccination strategy. This ensured that the benefits of the vaccine would also reach remote rural areas with difficult access. Panama held one of the most robust and effective vaccination programs in the region. As we are known for promoting an integrated, environmental, socially sustainable, and competitive economy, revitalizing the traditional engines of economic growth and promoting the emergence of new ones is certainly high on our collective agenda. Throughout the pandemic, we learned about the importance of promoting sciences, technology, and innovation to close the existing social and economic gaps in order to accelerate development and growth. Integrating technology in our daily lives became the “new normal,” and we found ourselves forced to adapt to different work modalities. Reinventing ourselves and relying on tools such as online platforms and applications became a reality. The incorporation of virtual fairs that allowed SMEs to remain updated and connected to buyers from all over the world represent a clear example of this transition. Adaptation is the key word in order to keep moving forward and continue to succeed on this post-pandemic world. There have been major changes in the main economic sectors, and we need to embrace and address this in order to continue to move forward. Undoubtedly, one of the worst consequences of the health crisis was the high unemployment rates, though we see an appropriate scenario to lay the foundations for a change in public policies to build a future that has entrepreneurship and formal employment at its center. To successfully overcome our greatest challenge, it was necessary to address four fundamental areas: competitiveness and productive transformation, education, institutional capacity, and social and territorial cohesion. We developed an FDI promotion strategy that focuses mainly on logistics, digitalization, and food production without leaving aside the pharmaceutical, tourism, energy, and construction sectors. Our government is well known for promoting an integrated, environmental and socially sustainable economy, revitalizing the traditional engines of economic growth, and promoting the emergence of new ones. We enacted several projects and policies like a tax relief bill for micro, small, and medium businesses that establishes a special reduced income tax regime. At the same time, we developed a bill for micro business to expand from USD1,000 to USD2,000 the program Improving My Business, non-reimbursable seed capital. In addition, an agro parks law was enacted to promote smart agriculture to the integration of new technology into the sector, creating more jobs in the countryside, and promoting the growth of the sector. In terms of exports, we are working to promote the diversification and increase the value of exports, volume, and quality by attracting foreign investment based on efficiency and the transfer of knowledge and technology.

What short-term goals does the government have by 2024?

Our main objective is to implement actions in order to improve the quality of life of Panamanian families. A useful, efficient, capable, and service-oriented management to reach all citizens, especially those that are in most need. We are moving forward with our government plan, implementing the actions that lead to good governance, rule of law, and a competitive economy that generates employment and fights poverty and inequality through a dynamic government executing priority actions and tasks in order to complete our goals. All of this while maintaining a special focus on quality education and values. That is why the main goals of our government plan are focused on meeting the needs of the population, taking advantage of the economic growth of our country, and keep on improving our service culture by the exponentiation of the Panama Canal.

What footprint would you like to leave in the country after the conclusion of your administration?

As President of the Republic of Panama, my mission has been to lead the country in an exceptional time, facing the great challenges of a pandemic and the consequences of the Ukraine war (increased oil and food prices). I will do whatever is necessary to continue moving forward with the help and support of all Panamanians. Due to the circumstances we have faced, we have had to take difficult and drastic measures; however, we will turn this into opportunities for our country. This crisis has brought out the best in Panamanians, and by working together, there is nothing that the Panamanian people cannot achieve. That is why I am confident that Panama will emerge from this in a stronger and better position to face upcoming challenges. I would like to see a more prosperous, inclusive, digital, and sustainable country, which is why we are working hard to achieve this. That is our commitment. We are well aware of Panama’s huge potential, and I am honored and grateful to be able to contribute every day in order to advance toward those objectives.

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