The more than 100 delegates of the Cayman Islands trade mission to Panama returned Saturday with mixed ideas about the success of the exercise.
For some merchants, Panama offers little opportunity to their business, or at least not enough benefit to warrant switching from established suppliers in the United States.
For others, Panama does indeed offer a cost-saving-alternative to U.S. suppliers of goods coming from the Far East.
Many merchants represented in the trade mission aren’t yet sure if they will do business with Panama, but the trip still gave them knowledge they did not have before, and suppliers with which to compare the prices of their established suppliers.
But the trade mission was not only about merchants. Some lawyers and bankers also took the trip to explore the possibilities of attracting some business from Panama, which has the most rapidly growing economy in Central America.
In addition, a strong government contingent attended the trade mission. Representatives of the Ministry of Health and Health Services Authority, along with Cabinet Minister Anthony Eden toured the newly opened state-of-the-art Punta Pacifica Hospital with the view of it possibly offering an alternative to seeking specialised medical care in Miami.
Cabinet Minister Arden McLean viewed an enormous affordable housing project in Panama City that offers small, concrete block homes to low-income people.
The delegation also got to see several of Panama’s top hotels. Even though that country’s tourism industry is still in its infancy, it was useful to see what a regional competitor had to offer.
Although not currently a threat to Cayman’s high-end tourism market, Panama is aiming to establish a strong eco-tourism product, which could eventually affect us here.
The trade mission not only offered Caymanians a chance to learn more about a country that could help their businesses, it gave them a chance to establish stronger public and private sector ties with a regional neighbour.
Despite shortfalls in the sophistication of some of Panama’s business systems, the delegates found a country whose people were warm, accommodating and eager to do business with them.
Already, plans are in the making for a reciprocal trade mission to come to Cayman from Panama, hopefully in August.
It might not be known yet how much business will actually be conducted with Panama by the trade mission delegates, but it will be more than what was done previously. And if that trade makes us a little less reliant on the United States or lowers the cost of some goods here, then the trade mission can only be termed a success.