FTA talks boost Panama ties

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/13 22:53:41

Two countries seek to expand relationship

Augusto Arosemena Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

Editor's Note:

A year after Panama and China established diplomatic relations, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and his Panamanian counterpart Augusto Arosemena officially launched free-trade talks between the two countries on Tuesday. Arosemena, Panama's minister of commerce and industries, spoke to Global Times reporter Chen Qingqing (GT) on Wednesday, to discuss the future of China-Panama business relations.

GT: Why is it important to have free-trade talks with China?

Arosemena: Given our geographic position, it's important to have a network in order to connect with global trade using Panama as a hub. We have more than 20 free trade agreements.

Panamanian exporters need access to important markets, such as China, and Chinese companies can get the proper environment and framework to invest in our country. So the idea is to have a win-win agreement.

I see a lot of potential for the future relationship, for example, in the energy sector, in the logistics sector and tourism.

For example, Panama is very competitive when it comes to exporting fruit, fish products, coffee and beef. All of those products, I think, will benefit a lot from gaining access to the Chinese market.

GT: How have Panama-China business relations been evolving over the past year?

Arosemena: First of all, I have to say that the commercial relationship between China and Panama goes back more than a hundred years.

China is the number one supplier for the Colón Free Trade Zone, which is an important pillar of our economy. So it's an ideal distribution hub for merchandise. In addition, China is the second-largest user of the Panama Canal.

Now, given the new diplomatic relations, we've seen more companies coming to look for opportunities in infrastructure projects, in real estate and in tourism, as well as seeking to set up regional offices in Panama to cater to their business and affairs in Latin America.

GT: What are the projects that could symbolize China-Panama cooperation?

Arosemena: One of the things on the agenda is a feasibility study to build a train that will connect Panama City to the border of Costa Rica. This project is advancing really quickly, and the next step will be the public spending and investment plan.

GT: How does Panama see the Belt and Road initiative?

Arosemena: We believe that Panama could be used as a hub for the initiative. While Chinese companies invest in added-value manufacturing in our country, Panama could be an important deliverer of the initiative to the whole Latin American market.

GT: There are concerns over China's rising influence in Panama, which some say may affect US interests. What do you think of this?

Arosemena: Panama is a sovereign country that can make its own decisions. It was definitely the right decision to establish diplomatic relations with China. China will be an important partner for Panama and is a key source of foreign investment. We're very happy with the relationship, and we don't pay much attention to what other countries are thinking.

Posted in: ECONOMY

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