Looking to do business in Panama? Recent news bodes well for potential importers and exporters. International news media are reporting apparent progress on a long-awaited Panama-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
U.S. trade representatives and Panama’s Minister of Trade and Industry announced in December 2007 that, after three years, negotiations had concluded on a comprehensive FTA.
The agreement was meant to eliminate key tariffs and barriers to trade, while expanding trade between the two countries. Many in Panama expressed hopes the FTA would promote economic growth, legal and business reforms, investment, and regulatory transparency in Panama.
Those hopes disappeared as, year after year, the two countries tried to resolve key issues presented as requirements for ratification by the U.S. Congress. The U.S. wanted Panama to enact labor reform and take further steps toward fiscal transparency. Panama obliged, taking steps to broaden labor rights, including collective bargaining rights and workers’ protection. Perhaps the most significant barrier to FTA was removed with Panama’s recent full ratification of a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the U.S.
U.S. trade representatives announced earlier this month that “Panama has satisfied U.S. concerns for completion of a free trade pact,” adding that the Obama administration would be re-introducing the Panama agreement for ratification.
Per agricultural industry publication AGWeek, U.S. proponents of the pact are hopeful. “We hope our discussions to review these documents can commence without delay so that we can work together to bring the benefits of this agreement home to American businesses, farmers and workers,” said a U.S. trade representative.
Panama: Major Trade Progress
Panama recently ratified trade agreements with a slew of countries, including Chile, Singapore and Taiwan. Exporters from those countries will, per AGWeek, have a competitive advantage over U.S. firms because U.S. products are currently subject to higher duties. The publication added that the American Soybean Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council praised progress on the Panama agreement.
Korea and Colombia also have pending FTAs with the U.S. Sources in Washington say it is possible that the U.S.-Panama FTA will be placed on hold until the Colombia and Korea agreements are also ready for re-introduction to the U.S. Senate. If true, the FTA could be delayed indefinitely.
U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Panama President Ricardo Martinelli for the first time today. “Among other key bilateral and regional issues, the presidents will discuss next steps with regard to the FTA,” said the White House in a statement.
What else is on the agenda for the meeting? Per the White House: “The Presidents will discuss next steps with regard to the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement as well as progress on the Central America Citizen Security Partnership President Obama announced during his recent trip to Latin America.”
The U.S. and Panama: Close Allies
“The meeting and moving forward on the agreement underscore the historic relationship between the U.S. and Panama, one of our closest allies,” said a representative of the U.S. National Security Council.
While in the U.S., Martinelli will meet with Wayne Clough, President Emeritus of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to commemorate the institute’s 100th year in Panama. Martinelli will also receive the Light Unto the Nations award at the American Jewish Committee Gala. Light Unto the Nations is the AJC’s highest award for distinguished national leaders. Previous recipients include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
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