This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Chamber of Commerce. What was the philosophy behind the creation of the institution, and what are its milestones achieved in recent years?
The Chamber of Commerce was established in 1915 as an initiative designed to enable businessmen to meet and share common interests in the private sector and to develop businesses after the canal was opened in 1914. Ever since then, the Chamber has played a significant role in the private sector. From time to time, it has also been involved in the struggle for democracy. Our chamber is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2105, and looking back on all that we have done, there have been many presidents who were members of the chamber. We played an important role in the coup d'etat in 1968, and also in the cessation of the dictatorship in 1989. It was also the chamber that led the opposition in 1989. After that we assisted the new government in the restructuring and rebuilding of our economy. The private sector is now a vital force in Panama, and the nation has been one of the leaders of the past 10 years in terms of GDP growth, and the highest ranking in Latin America. We have a dollarized economy, which is stable, and also attractive for overseas investors. Panama has great connectivity through its airport, and our most important asset is the canal, which was handed back to the Panamanians in 2000. Ever since, the Panamanian government has been a great example of good management and sound investment in the economy. As a private entity we have grown in scale, with over 1,800 members today. We are divided into 15 groups or sub-chambers, with every chamber representing a different sector. We have coverage of industry, construction, and development, cars and motors, pharmaceuticals, law firms, advertisement agencies, human resources, education, logistics, and transportation, to name a few. Each sector is represented here, and each sub-chamber has between 150 and 200 members. We have good representation across all important topics and sections of our economy.
What does the chamber do to protect its members and widen its membership?
We offer many services through the chamber, including a legal department, which revises every law and initiative at the legislative and executive levels for the private sector. We are vigilant that none of these initiatives impair the security of enterprises and the way we do businesses. We are keen to protect the private sector, and organize five to six expositions a year. The most important multi-sector exposition is Expo Comer, which has been held in March for the past 33 years. We have representation and commercial exposure from over 30 countries, while buyers and suppliers from abroad are also in attendance. We also instigate trade between other countries with which Panama has close relations. We stage expositions for the tourism sector, too, as well as the technology and medicine and health sectors. Foreign nationals, too, are at liberty to come to Panama and join our chamber. We also provide a medium for arbitration between members, and are leaders in social responsibility.
What advantages does Panama offer to the international investor community?
We have the highest international direct investment rate in Central America. We have attracted close to 45% of the international investments in Panama and Central America, and are doing a good job in that regard. We have the connectivity of the canals, and among the Americas, which makes it easy for foreigner entities to visit and see what we have to offer. We enjoy political stability, and the economy, too, is one of our assets. Meanwhile, a convention center is being built, for which we have high expectations. The center will attract international multi-sector conventions to Latin America. The international business community will have greater scope to view Panama, and perhaps establish a presence as a result. We have over 100 multinational organizations established in Panama, which speaks volume about our sheer potential. These companies have their regional offices here, and benefit from special treatment, while their investments create jobs. Our unemployment rate is the lowest in Latin America, and with employment comes peace, progress, and a good quality of life in the country.
What are your priorities for the year ahead?
Since we have grown in membership over the past few years, one of the most important considerations is to remain in closer contact with our members; we have met with over 1,000 companies this year. Such direct interaction is a great means of showcasing what we have to offer. We stage events, conventions, and economic forums, as well a maintaining a profile in the printed medium. We are keen to work with the public sector to attract more tourists and international investors. There is considerable potential for growth in tourism, mining, fishing, construction, the agro industry, and the service cluster around the Panama Canal. These are the sectors that we have identified as the key sources of growth and business opportunities in Panama.