Augusto Arosemena Moreno, Minister of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Panama: Interview

Interview: Augusto Arosemena Moreno

What are some of the key benefits for companies based in Trinidad and Tobago exporting to Panama under the Partial Scope Agreement?

AUGUSTO AROSEMENA MPRENO: T&T-based companies exporting to Panama enjoy tariff-free access to a number of products including tar, asphalt, petroleum and bitumen, which are all key T&T exports. T&T obtained rule of origin rights that protect the interests of Trinbagonian industries in different areas, such as mineral fuels and oils, bituminous materials and mineral waxes, inorganic chemicals and other food preparations. In addition, after a period of 10 years, T&T will have tax-free access to Panamanian products such as lubricants, angostura, tableware plastics and t-shirts. Panama granted immediate access to 70% of what T&T has requested.

What are some of the opportunities that currently exist in T&T for Panamanian companies?

AROSEMENA: Panamanian companies now have dutyfree access to dairy products, including cheeses, fresh and frozen fish, non-tropical fruit juices and refrigerators and freezers for industrial and commercial use. In addition, exporters will have preferential seasonal rights to export vegetables to T&T.

Products such as beef and pork will also enter T&T with an immediate 50% tariff preference. Tariffs will also be reduced for yogurt, flavoured milks, hamburger meat, processed seafood, plastic tableware, clothing and paper products. Tariffs on advertising products will also be progressively reduced over the next 10 years, after which they will enter duty free.

Which measures should T&T exporters be taking to ensure their products can compete in Panama?

AROSEMENA: By 2016 T&T was the 51st importer to Panama. At that time imports, which come from all over the world, were worth a total of $8.4m. Top imports from T&T included industrial products, which made up to 94% of the total figure. Food and beverages require permits and approval from the Ministry of Health, as there is among top supermarkets a wide diversity of products and a strong presence of organic and healthy foodstuffs, due to influence from markets such as the US. Local consumers look to find diversity in prices and quality, which are factors that should be taken into consideration by any exporter that is interested in breaking into the Panamanian market; thus this should be considered by T&T exporters as well.

How can T&T and other CARICOM countries better position themselves to take advantage of the expanded Panama Canal?

AROSEMENA: The expansion of the Panama Canal will bring new opportunities, according to the existing master plan, which includes the development of 1200 ha near the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side. At this moment the project is in the feasibility stage. This mega-project will help develop industrial facilities for exports in several fields and operations.

For example, pharmaceutical products and light manufacturing operations are key sectors that need to be analysed, along with others like maritime services. These will need to meet Neo-Panamax standards once the Port Singapore Authority finishes its expansion and work on the Corozal mega-port finishes.

For companies entering the market, there is the Panama-Pacifico Special Economic Area, which offers a range of advice on fiscal, migration, labour and Customs issues through its one-stop shop office, which houses 17 government institutions. The presence of these institutions makes it easier and faster to establish a presence in Panama. There is also a master plan project with high-quality infrastructure and high-end residential properties for corporates.

A number of new opportunities exist in segments such as liquefied natural gas, trans-shipment and the expansion of services related to oil and gas. These are fields where T&T is seen as a leader in the region.

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Augusto Arosemena Moreno

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017

Economy chapter from The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2017