Luis Sierra | The Panama Post
Cuba buys Panamanian textiles, footwear, and home appliances, while Panama imports clinker (an intermediate form of cement) and steel bars, among other products.
On March 16, the governments of Panama and Cuba signed a partial trade agreement in Havana, after completing negotiations there in January. Representatives of both governments stated that this agreement is different from usual accords of its type.
Topics covered in the negotiations included an exchange of services and knowledge, as well as issues such as biotechnology. The talks, which took six months, covered a wide range of subjects.
The agreement was reached following a favorable environment for trade agreements in 2008. It was signed by Panama’s First Vice-president and Chancellor, Samuel Lewis Navarro, and Cuba’s vice.president of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas.
Cuban officials present at the signing included Esteban Lasso, Vice-president of the Council of State, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, and Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Foreign Minister. Panamanian officials included the Vice-minister of Foreign Trade, Severo Sousa, and Panama’s Ambassador to Cuba, Luis Gómez.
Lewis Navarro also met with the President of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, at the Assembly’s headquarters in the Miramar district in western Havana.
Panama’s Chancellor Navarro said the two countries have found ways to cooperate and work together. These include fighting illiteracy with the “Yo sí puedo” (“Yes, I Can”) program and “Operación Milagro” (“Operation Miracle”) attending to problems of vision.
He said that this year Panama hopes to reach its goal of zero illiteracy. He also stated that “with Operation Miracle, thousands of Panamanians have recovered hope and a better quality of life” after undergoing operations for various vision-related illnesses, with Cuban medical help.
He added, “In the name of the government of President Martin Torrijos and the people of Panama, we have signed an agreement that represents a positive step in building a relationship that has been very solid and advantageous for both countries.”
Vice-minister Sousa added that, “This agreement provides for an exchange of goods, including a certification of origin that recognizes certificates of re-exportation from the Colon Free Trade Zone” (ZLC). This will be valid for any product for which 35 percent to 40 percent of its manufacture took place in Panama, regardless of the origin of its raw materials.”
Sousa stated that this validated the agreement on promoting and protecting investment that was signed by the two countries in 1999.
“It will be easier for Panamanian businesses to sell to and do business with Cuba. This will make entering the Cuban market easier,” he explained.
Many Panamanian products will have 100% preferential access in Cuba. These include products such as pork, cardboard boxes, corrugated cardboard, chicken and beef byproducts, flowers, sausages, toilet paper, vertical freezers, wheelbarrows, construction materials, roofing beams, steel structures, cornstarch, grape juice, sauces, condiments and paper towels.
Products having a Customs preference of 50 percent to 75 percent include fruits, processed cheese, evaporated milk, condensed milk, bananas, juices, nectars, and eggs for human consumption and incubation, said Sousa.
Relations between Panama and Cuba have taken a positive leap forward since the rupture that took place in August, 2004, when Cuba broke relations to protest the decision by Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso to pardon Luis Posada Carriles and three other Cubans accused of terrorism.
The situation returned to normal a year later, during the administration of Panama’s current president, Martin Torrijos.
“Bilateral trade has grown about 15 times, compared to what it was four years ago,” Cuba’s Ambassador to Panama, Carlos García Trápaga, told The Panama Post.
He noted that this is the first time that Cuba has negotiated a partial agreement on services, a chapter the two countries started to negotiate at Panama’s request.
Panama’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Gisela Alvarez de Porras, stated that it’s very significant that in this agreement with Panama, Cuba has included services for the first time. She said, “This gives priority to the Panamanian financial system and to all the services provided in Panama’s ZLC.” This zone, on Panama’s Atlantic coast, is the main Free Zone in the Western hemisphere.
Other areas the agreement may promote include tourism, transport, and telecommunications.
Porras also pointed out advances made opening up new opportunities to place Panamanian products in the international market, especially in times of crisis like the current global economic situation.
She noted that because of this agreement, Panamanian products from the ZLC would be re-exported, pending ratification by both countries’ legislatures, because they will be considered of Panamanian origin.
She pointed out that sectors in which Panama will benefit from this agreement include products such as boned meat, chicken, juices, and nectars, which will be fully protected and given preference.
“The Panamanian financial system has been recognized and accepted in Cuba,” she stated.
She was pleased that the agreement would promote cooperation among sectors from the two countries.
A new bilateral push
Cuba’s Ambassador Trápaga stated that it is significant that “in August, 2005, a new phase in relations between Panama and Cuba began. The two parties have started to explore all possible fields of cooperation in various areas.”
He noted that measures are being taken to boost trade. Because of this, he said, the countries have achieved a considerable level of trade in four years.
According to Trápaga, the purpose of the partial trade agreement is to create conditions fostering relations between the two countries, as well as to provide legal support for the stimulus they wish to give to commercial and economic relations.
He expects the agreement will be ratified in two or three months.