Interview: Ed Fast

What impact will the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have on Panama’s mining sector?

ED FAST: Canadian companies are major players in the extractive sector, with mining interests in 8000-plus sites in over 100 countries. The updated investment provisions ensure that Canadian investors will be treated as well as their Panamanian counterparts in the creation, acquisition and running of operations in Panama. Canadian firms have the technology, experience and willingness to drive natural resource development while implementing global best practices. Likewise, the Canadian government is committed to working with trade partners to pursue policies that support a sustainable investment environment, as well as to share know-how.

In what other sectors do you expect to see Canadian participation in the near to medium term?

FAST: The FTA has removed trade barriers to create new opportunities in construction, manufacturing and agricultural industries. Canadian constructors and service and equipment suppliers are particularly well-placed to tap into Panama’s public infrastructure development, given our expertise in transport, communications, logistics, energy, water management and wastewater treatment. The Panamanian government has expanded its capital expenditure programme, a key portion of which is focused on transport, such as the new $1.8bn metro line, $1.6bn for roads in Panama City, $680m for Tocumen Airport south terminal and the construction of airports in Río Hato and Colón, respectively.

Water projects include the $500m Bay of Panama Sanitation Project and the IDAAN $280m water distribution line for Panama City. There are also a number of agriculture-irrigation projects under way for which Canadian dry-land farming capabilities could be applied.

Which tertiary activities have the most potential to enhance commercial ties?

FAST: Canadian financial and real estate development services are currently well-positioned to participate in the construction of hotels, resorts and office towers in Panama. Indeed, the FTA has significantly expanded market access for Canadian service providers, as well as offering the benefits of increased labour mobility and tariff reduction on goods.

To what extent has the Canada-Panama Air Agreement led to better connectivity?

FAST: Under the Blue Sky policy, the Canadian government has been active in promoting long-term, sustainable competition and the development of new and expanded international air services, with transport agreements covering more than 70 countries, including Panama. Since the conclusion of an air transport agreement in 2008, new scheduled air services have been introduced by Copa Airlines and Air Transat between Canada and Panama. Such services support growing trade relations and tourism links. Copa currently operates four flights weekly between Toronto and Panama City, while Air Transat operates one flight from Montreal and Toronto to Panama City.

How competitive is Panama as a base for the regional expansion of Canadian multinationals?

FAST: Panama is a centre point for regional transport, finance and energy networks, not only because it is at the crossroads of two continents, but also because of its historic role as a container transport lynchpin through the Panama Canal. It is also an important logistical platform for commercial activity throughout the region. Our FTA with Panama will better enable Canadian companies to participate in large projects, such as the $5.3bn expansion of the Panama Canal, as well as to support Canada’s vision of enhanced integration via the Americas to help Canadian firms compete in global markets.

Canadian companies have demonstrated a heightened interest in Panama as an investment destination.

Indeed, the World Bank’s “2012 Ease of Doing Business” survey ranked Panama as the highest in Central America, at 61st out of 185 countries worldwide.