June 14, 2004
Panama Day in Atlanta Inaugural Remarks by Ambassador Linda E. Watt
I am honored and delighted to welcome all of you to Panama Day in Atlanta, an event that has been organized with great teamwork and enthusiasm. I am grateful to the U.S.-Panama Business Council (USPA), which has a long and impressive record of trade and investment promotion in the United States and around the world, for organizing this event.
I also want to thank the many important organizations in Panama and Atlanta that pulled together in a spirit of cooperation with USPA to make this conference possible. Special notice should go to Delta Airlines, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Tech and the Panama Tourism Institute.
As a proud Atlantan, myself, and a graduate of North Fulton High School, I am very enthusiastic about this opportunity to enhance and expand the already strong ties between Atlanta and Panama. As I often say, my role as ambassador to Panama is not just to represent my government. I see myself as the representative of the American people to the people of Panama. And today, I feel that I am most especially the representative of the people of Georgia!
When I heard about the planning for this event, I was moved to pitch in and help promote the idea of a Panama-Atlanta connection because I see so many similarities between the two. Both have a special dynamism and head for business. Both are major crossroads for commerce and modern business but also a developed agricultural base. Most importantly, though, I sense “cultural” affinities between Panama and Atlanta. When I think of Panama, I think about the importance of family, the values of kindness, hospitality, generosity, and respect for others. I think about philanthropy and concern for the less fortunate. Panama is cosmopolitan and homey at the same time. These attributes could just as easily describe Atlanta and Georgia.
And lastly, Panama and Atlanta share a profound love of baseball – which some of my Panamanian colleagues might tell you was first invented in Chiriqui province. I challenge you Atlantans to assist me in one important mission today: we need to break our Panamanian friends of their strong attachment to the New York Yankees and get them to appreciate more deserving teams . . . like, the Atlanta Braves, for instance!
I have two purposes in participating in this program, both of which reinforce the other. First, I want Panamanians to get to know Atlanta and to appreciate it the way I do. I want them to see this great city and great state as their gateway into the United States for business, tourism and education. And, on the other side of the coin, I want to acquaint Atlantans with Panama. I want you to understand how Panama can be a trusted partner for business and investment and an enjoyable destination for travel.
Panama Day in Atlanta is an excellent opportunity to strengthen commercial and cultural relations between Panama and Georgia. Atlanta has much to offer as one of the most important commercial centers in the southeast Unites States. There are more than 1,600 foreign owned companies representing 39 countries in Georgia, including 153 companies from Canada, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. Atlanta serves as home to operations for 12 Fortune 500 companies and 24 Fortune 1,000 companies. In addition, nearly 75 percent of all Fortune 1,000 companies have a presence in metro Atlanta. And 45 countries have established consular, trade, tourism or bi-national chambers of commerce here. Impressive statistics!
And Atlanta offers the hospitality and convention infrastructure necessary to support the global business community including more than 80,000 hotel rooms, 8,000 restaurants and state-of-the-art meeting and trade show facilities. All of Atlanta’s assets, its strength as a global business center and its diverse and fast growing Latin American and international community, make it the most effective and strategic trade partner for Panama.
Now let me talk a little bit about Panama.
The year 2003 marked the Centennial year of Panama’s independence. It has also been 100 years since a bilateral treaty gave the U.S. the right to build and run the trans-isthmian canal (and use the surrounding zone) that was completed in 1914. This sometimes-controversial relationship was changed by mutual agreement with the 1977 Panama Canal Treaties – referred to as the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in Panama, after President Jimmy Carter who negotiated and signed the agreement, and who is still held in high esteem by Panamanians. The U.S. passed management of the Canal to Panama and closed the last military base in the country on December 31, 1999.
Today, we are engaged in building a new robust and mature relationship with Panama that reflects our 21st Century attitudes. As you may know, the United States and Panama are currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, which is intended to enhance trade and investment between our two countries. We hope this agreement will pave the way for a stronger and richer relationship with Panama.
Owing to its strategic location, Panama, from the time of the conquistadors, has served as the crossroad of trade for the Americas. Today, Panama is an international trading, banking, and services center. Panama's dollar-based economy offers low inflation and zero foreign exchange risk. Panama's government actively seeks foreign investment and has no restrictions on the outflow of capital or outward direct investment.
The United States is Panama's most important trading partner, with about 40% of the import market and 45% of Panama’s export market, and U.S. products enjoy a high degree of acceptance in Panama.
Panama's merchandise imports increased 3.5% in 2003 to a total of US$3.1 billion with U.S. exports to Panama registering $1.1 billion. The value of Panama's total merchandise exports in 2002 reached US$799 million.
Panama's economy is based primarily on a well-developed services sector, accounting for about 80 percent of GDP. Services include the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, and flagship registry. The Colon Free Zone receives and distributes goods from around the hemisphere. The Manzanillo International Terminal, a U.S.-owned operation, is the most efficient port in the hemisphere. Manufacturing, mining, utilities, and construction together account for 12 percent of GDP. An attractive market for U.S. firms, don’t you think?
Consumer attitudes and many brand preferences are similar to the U.S. American television, radio and U.S. magazines are all available and popular in Panama. Panamanians frequently travel to the U.S. for vacations, medical treatment, study, and business. Their buying patterns and tastes are similar to ours.
Panama is a burgeoning tourist destination. Soon tourism will surpass the Canal as a contributor to GDP, for instance. Blessed with natural beauties that range from dense and pristine jungles to ocean paradises to mountain retreats, Panama is also a top destination for American retirees.
U.S. goods and services enjoy a reputation for high quality and are highly competitive. Panama boasts the highest per capita GDP in the region: US$3,900 (2003).
Panama shows excellent growth prospects in the areas of power generation, health care services, ports, land development, road construction, water distribution and purification, telecommunications, environmental services, and tourism.
I am sure that the speakers over the course of this conference will provide a deeper explanation of the Panamanian economy and will help identify potential business and investment opportunities, as well as the many options for scientific, cultural and academic exchange.
My congratulations again to all the Panamanian and Atlanta business, scientific and academic organizations that have been responsible for putting together this timely event. Thank you very much.