Interview: Daniel Isaza

Is there room for further public-private collaboration in the transport and logistics industry?

DANIEL ISAZA: Yes, there is, and in many areas. Since the creation of the Logistics and Business Council (COEL), the mission has been to encourage the public sector to drive the integration and participation necessary to promote growth. The reception has been very positive and we feel progress has been made. It is the first time that public and private stakeholders within the sector have met with the goal of analysing strengths and weaknesses, and finding the best way to move forward.

The final analysis will focus on identifying which improvements are needed and where, in areas such as human resources, innovation, infrastructure, foreign trade processes and logistic services – at both the national and international levels. We must work within the legal framework to create a long-term national logistics strategy, with the goal of implementing that as government policy.

Such an initiative will require commitment from both sides. It is critical that integration is a product of COEL as the private sector representative, and the Logistics Cabinet as the public representative. An institutionalised channel of communication between the public and private sectors, together with a unification of government organisations involved in logistics, would allow us to better tackle issues relating to infrastructure, integration, human resources and technology projects.

What are the primary challenges to improving human resource capacity?

ISAZA: In the short term, we must work on technical Customs and logistics education to help improve our human resource capacity, while also increasing English language proficiency. In the medium to long term, we also need to address and improve our customer service culture, which is lacking. Young people and educational institutions need to remember that Panama, as an ideal transportation and logistics hub, will have a concentration of opportunities in those sub-sectors.

In the next three to five years, our sector will need thousands of skilled workers across our entire logistics platform. We also need to engage the government through the Ministry of Education in order to drive the creation of the necessary programmes.

Are there opportunities for developing value added manufacturing in the logistics supply chain?

ISAZA: There are various possibilities. In Panama we have started the construction of several logistics zones under the new Free Zones Law. At the same time, we are in the middle of the expansion of our airport, railways, motorways and, of course, the canal. When finished, post-Panamax ships will be able to pass through carrying many more thousands of containers. We should encourage manufacturers to use our geographic position as a competitive advantage, both in terms of distribution capacity and supply chain management, by offering them efficient, fast and reliable services.

Panama will be the most competitive logistics hub in the region, and we need to capitalise on that. The pharmaceuticals industry, high-tech manufacturing, retail department stores and supermarket chains are some of the segments that stand to benefit.

What is your assessment of the adoption of technology within the logistics sector?

ISAZA: Among our key areas for improvement are human resources and technological innovation. The reason we combine these two areas is because, in our view, technology is only as good as the person using it.

Results improve when we are able to invest in technology, and then put it in the hands of a skilled worker.

We need to streamline all the government entities supervising or generating new service processes for the transport and logistics sector. Panama is a modern and high-tech country; therefore, it is easy for us to adopt new technologies. Both the public and private sectors must invest in a comprehensive and consensual way so that we can keep pace and be on the same page.