May 01, 2012
Officials from both Panama and The Bahamas are optimistic that trade between the two nations will be on the rise in the coming years.
The Consul General for Panama David McGrath is reporting daily inquiries from food and retail wholesalers. As the products improve in quality, entrepreneurs are coming to realize the cost benefits of doing business out of Panama's massive and growing free zone.
"I receive inquiries regarding food, products like T-shirts and other clothing, linens, used car parts and electronics," he told Guardian Business. "More and more seems to be happening, and I think trade is increasing."
Winston Rolle, the chief executive officer of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), said plans are still in the works to visit Panama on a trade delegation.
He admitted that BCCEC's annual general meeting and the election put them behind, but he provided assurances that "all of that is on the table".
He agreed that Panama is now emerging as a credible
alternative to the U.S. when it comes to imports to The Bahamas. He believes the most significant hurdle is proper shipping lines, noting there could be tremendous business opportunities for those with an eye to connect the two nations in a more efficient way.
"We're finding there are a lot more things for people to take advantage of from Panama as an alternative to the U.S.," he added.
McGrath went so far as to suggest that Panama and The Bahamas should invest in proper aircraft, such as the DC-3, to transport products between the two countries.
He told Guardian Business that a two-tier structure exists in the free zone.
If you're a one-time customer going there for shopping, he said, the rate for goods is dramatically different than if someone purchased mass quantities.
The potential of the Panama Free Zone is expected to be top of the agenda when the BCCEC visits later this year.
"I've lined the BCCEC up with contacts down here. I believe they are trying to generate some local interest. Everyone is coming back positive, as long as you get up and go," the consul general explained.
McGrath attributed the rise of Copa Airlines as a major reason behind the rising interest in commerce.
Last year, Copa increased its direct flights in Panama to four days per week. The Bahamas saw a 40 percent hike in arrivals from Latin America between June and July of last year.
"We are very satisfied and happy with the performance of the route and we are making the studies necessary to try and work for daily frequency," said Marco Ocando, vice president of marketing and communications at Copa. "We're pushing for it, but the route is doing the job itself."
Executives at Copa have identified language differences and general awareness of Latin America to be temporary barriers to future growth.
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