Most of the Cayman Panama International Trade Mission delegates returned home Saturday thinking the trip had been useful.
More than 100 delegates from private sector businesses and various government departments attended the trade mission to the Central American country through which more than five per cent of the world’s trade flows.
The five-day mission, which was organised through the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, included a conference, a visit to the Expocomer trade show, a trip to the Colon Free Zone, a tour of one of Panama’s newest hotel resorts and some time to shop at Panama City’s malls.
‘I definitely think (the trade mission) was beneficial,’ said Benson Ebanks of B.O. Ebanks and Son. ‘It could have been even more successful if we had more time in the Free Zone.’
The Colon Free Zone is basically a 1,000-acre duty free area with more than 2,000 companies. It is the world’s second largest Free Zone, behind Hong Kong.
A large percentage of the goods in the Free Zone are manufactured in countries of Asia like China, Taiwan and Singapore, however there are also goods form Europe and the United States.
Mr. Ebanks was pleased with what he found in the free zone, especially with regard to certain goods including name brand tires, which he plans to bring to Cayman.
‘I don’t know if I can bring down the cost (to Cayman consumers) but they have six-ply or eight-ply tires for pick-up trucks for about the same price as I buy four-ply tires, so it’s a better value.’
Altee Thompson of A.L. Thompson’s Home Depot also found the trip beneficial.
‘We’re definitely going to do business with Panama,’ he said. ‘We already do, but we’re going to do more.’
Mr. Thompson said even if some of the merchants did not find what they were looking for, the effort was worth the try.
Woody Foster of Foster’s Food Fair and Price Right was not sure how much his companies would be ordering from Panama.
‘They have the products, there’s no doubt about that,’ he said. ‘They have the quality and the variety.
‘Now it depends on what they can do about the prices.’
Craig Burke and Tara Ebanks, who sell household goods at their shop near the four-way stop in West Bay, also found the trip to the Free Zone beneficial.
They found some companies there that sell the kind of goods they carry.
‘Now we have to go back and compare prices,’ Ms Ebanks said. ‘But the trip was definitely worth it. We have something to compare to now.’
The trip did not only focus on finding suppliers for less expensive goods. Other possible opportunities in Panama were also explored.
Minister of Health Anthony, along with other representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Health Services Authority and CINICO toured the new, completely digitalised $50 million Punta Pacifica Hospital with the view that it could be an alternative to Miami for specialised medical care.
Cayman Airways also met with Panama’s Copa Airlines to explore opportunities of mutual interest and benefit.
Mike Adam, CEO of Cayman Airways, said the meeting, which lasted 45 minutes longer than scheduled, went well for a first meeting.
Cayman Airways would be interested in providing more service to Panama, Mr. Adam said.
‘We’d be very conservative in our approach,’ he said. ‘We might start with two flights every other week.’
Any additional flights to Panama would require board and shareholder approval, and an extensive route analysis is yet to be done, so the exact details Cayman Airway’s service to Panama are left to be determined, Mr. Adam said.
‘We’ve been chartering (to Panama) for years, and those flights have been very successful,’ he said. ‘We probably do eight to 10 flights a year there now, and we would look to at least double that, and add frequency after we see how that goes.’
A cargo route is something else the airline is looking at, Mr. Adam said, noting that Cayman Airways could finish the transportation of air cargo from destinations to which Copa flies directly, like Miami and Cuba.
‘And when loads warrant a direct route (from Panama), we can do that as well,’ Mr. Adam said.
William Perguero Sr., whose company Eaglemount did most of the trade mission’s planning in Panama, said the idea of the event was not necessarily to have everyone start conducting business as a result of the trip.
‘The game plan was to start something,’ he said.
Chamber president Morgan DaCosta said he felt the trade mission was a success.
‘The plan is to do a reciprocal arrangement and bring Panamanians into Cayman,’ he said.
Chamber CEO Wil Pineau said that reciprocal trade mission was tentatively slated for August.