Recently by Simon Black: The March Towards Capital Controls IsQuickening
One of the things that always intrigued me about Panama is how quickly this place moves… it was among the first things that I noticed when I first started coming here almost 10-years ago – there’s always something major happening.
Landing at Tocumen airport last night, right off the bat I noticed some recent upgrades since my last trip here several months ago. Most obvious – Panama’s airport has gone trilingual. All the signs are in English, Spanish… and now Portuguese as well.
While I was waiting in the VIP lounge for the porter to find my luggage, I was also struck by how many staff had learned basic Mandarin in order to cater to the Chinese businessmen who were sharing the lounge with me.
All of these are indicative of Panama’s general approach towards foreigners: figure out what will attract foreigners to Panama, and do it.
To give you an example, there has been a long dearth in Panama for top-notch business class hotels. The Marriott is too old, the Radisson Decapolis is too clubby, and the luxurious Bristol hotel is too small.
Enter the newest additions to Panama City’s already sprawling skyline, the Hotel RIU Panama Plaza and Le Meridien. These hotels are absolutely exquisite, worthy of international conventions and conferences.
There’s a large maritime conference going on right now at one of them, and this morning, I was speaking to a few delegates about it. The big buzz here at their conference is that the US/Panama free trade agreement (FTA) is back on the table after being stalled for years… that means a lot to their sector.
Surprise, surprise. After Panama laid down in traffic for Tim Geithner last quarter and completely did away with its banking privacy, suddenly the US now seems willing to push the treaty through its bureaucracy.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified in front of Congress last week, indicating that the Obama administration is resolving the problems with the Panama FTA and "looks forward to working with [Congress] to secure its approval this spring…"
For the life of me, I can’t understand why the government of Panama prostituted itself so disreputably, effectively giving up all of its advantage as an international financial center.
Banking in Panama has always been cumbersome… when you open an account, they want you there in person (most of the time), they want letters of reference, proof that your funds are legitimate, and about 10,000 signatures. It’s an incredibly bureaucratic process.