Delegates of the Cayman Islands Trade Mission to Panama, which included Panamanians and Caymanians, learned about what the reciprocal countries had to offer Wednesday during a two-session conference at the Intercontinental Hotel Miramar in Panama City.
During the morning session, the business environment in the Cayman Islands was explained.
Governor Stuart Jack noted that Cayman and Panama had a lot in common, including dynamic economies, a historical link, and a strong relationship with the United Kingdom with the UK being Panama’s largest foreign investor.
‘It seems to me there are good reasons for us to get together and explore the possibilities,’ he said. ‘We have all the pre-conditions for business.’
The keynote speaker for Cayman was Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce Charles Clifford.
Mr. Clifford commended the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce for its foresight in initiating the Trade Mission. ‘I’m confident it will be a fruitful partnership between the Cayman Islands for many years to come,’ he said.
‘Regardless the interest, whether it is business, trade, investment or even shopping, the visit this week is another opportunity to strengthen our relationship and to explore new and exciting business opportunities for us both.
Speaking of what the Cayman Islands had to offer Panamanians, Mr. Clifford told about Cayman’s tourism product with its beautiful beaches, friendly people, calm waters, world-class diving, and safe, relaxing vacations.
‘And, as you may have seen on the Travel Channel, we’re one of the world’s highly sought after wedding destinations,’ he said.
Mr. Clifford also spoke about the recent opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and the planned construction of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
‘It would be remiss of me as Minister of Tourism if I did not take this opportunity to personally invite you to see for yourself what all this buzz is about,’ he said.
‘I invite you to stop in, for work or play, so that we may have an opportunity to extend a warm Caymanian welcome in appreciation for the overwhelming reception we have had here in Panama.’
Turning to the subject of Cayman’s financial industry, Mr. Clifford spoke of the wide array of investment services offered in the Cayman Islands, as well as company registration, ship registration and real estate holding.
‘I invited you to talk to any of my colleagues that are here this morning, both from the Government and the private sector,’ he said. ‘We are very interested to discuss potential opportunities for trade between our two countries.’
In the break between the morning and afternoon sessions, delegates could meet potential business contacts in the Cayman/Panama Exhibition, which included booths of the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, Cayman Airways, Scotiabank in Panama and Seaboard Marine in Panama and others.
The delegates heard about the opportunities offered in Panama in the afternoon session. James Malcolm, the UK’s Ambassador to Panama, noted that the UK was the largest foreign investor in Panama.
‘And more UK investors are on the way,’ he said. ‘Panama is very much in the focus of UK investors because they like to do business here.’
Mr. Malcolm said some of the reasons Panama is attracting investors include its dynamic economy with its 6 per cent annual growth rate, a government determined to stamp out corruption and the commerce generated by the Panama Canal.
The keynote speaker for Panama was Julio Fabrega, the national director of Export and Investment Promotion.
Mr. Fabrega said the Panama Canal directly participated in 5 per cent of the world’s trade, moving more than 14,000 ships through the canal every year and that the demand was increasing. A plan to modernize the Panama Canal and the port facility on the Pacific Ocean side will lead to many investment opportunities, he said.
In addition, the real estate market is getting hot.
‘Panama is becoming a prime location for people buying a second home, not only people from the United States, but from Europe as well,’ he said.
Turning his attention to Panama’s national airline COPA, Mr. Fabrega said that unfortunately, the airline did not have direct flights to the Cayman Islands. ‘But I understand there are discussions going on this week to address that issue,’ he said.
Mr. Fabrega said the reasons people should invest in Panama included the country’s vocation for service; political, social and economic stability; the Colon Free Zone, which he said was the largest free zone in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world; the fact that the US dollar was their official currency; a modern legislation offering legal security; fiscal incentives for investors; and a cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse city with modern infrastructure.
After the conference, Cayman delegates were taken to the opening of the Expocomer 2006 Trade Show, the largest trade show in Latin America. More that 500 booths with companies from around the world had their goods or services on display with products ranging from clothing to high-tech machinery to food items.
After the long day, Cayman’s trade mission delegates had an early night in order to rest up for the 6.30am train ride to the Colon Free Zone.