Business is booming in Panama!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016.
Yes, business IS booming in Panama. For 2015, Panama experienced 6% GDP growth and expect the same for 2016. In addition, the unemployment rate is below 4 percent as well.
We gathered this information during meetings with the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Panama known as PANAMCHAM and with an Agricultural Specialist with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Services in Panama City.
Maurice Belanger, the Executive Director of PANAMCHAM talked about how his organization is helping to bring business to Panama. The chamber has over 450 member companies that represent more than 15 commercial and industrial sectors of the Panamanian economy. They provide a voice to promoting business ideas in Panama. Of course, the biggest asset Panama has is the canal. The Panama Canal is a major driver for business in Panama and with the expansion of the Canal, it will become even more important in the future. Airlines see this as an opportunity and are expanding routes and will have direct flights to Dubai & Istanbul in addition to routes to North, South & Central America.
Mr. Belanger cited several advantages to doing business in Panama.
The list included:
* Legal tender is the U.S. dollar.
* Politically stable
* Safe
* and most importantly…..geographic location.
The U.S. is an important trade partner for Panama with 19.6 percent of their exports going to the USA.

We learned more about agriculture in Panama from Arlene Villalaz, an Agricultural Specialist with the USDA Foreign Ag Services. For example, the average person from Panama eats over 200 pounds of Rice per year! Much of that rice is imported from the US. In addition to rice, the top ag imports from the US are corn, wheat, malted barley (for beer it’s very hot in Panama), snack foods, and prepared foods. The snack foods and prepared foods imports have increased substantially over the last few years. (apparently Panamanians love doritos & twinkies as much as I do!) In total, 60 percent of their food comes from the US according to Arlene. They do raise hogs, poultry & beef as well, but agriculture only makes up about 2.9 percent of Panama’s GDP. Most of Panama’s 3.9 million people work in the service industry making agriculture imports very important and an excellent trading partner for the USA.

During the course of the day, we also got an opportunity to visit ruins from the Archaeological Site of Panama Viejo otherwise known as Old Panama. This location was the original site of the city and was the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean. We climbed up the stairs of the Cathedral tower which like the rest of the ruins dates back to the late 1600’s. Despite the heat, it was well worth the climb and gave us an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the ruins.
Please see the pictures on the next blog post! Oma, James says hi!