WE HAVE CONNECTIONS

Panama 2014 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to HE Alejandro J. García Padilla, Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, on bilateral agreements, FTAs, and strategic sectors.

HE Alejandro J. García Padilla
BIOGRAPHY
After going through college and law school in Puerto Rico, Alejandro J. García Padilla clerked on the Appellate Circuit, served as a legislative aide, directed the Association of General Contractors, and practiced law at a well-reputed firm, focusing on contracts and real estate. He went on to serve as Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs, where he championed the rights of ordinary Puerto Ricans. In 2008, Alejandro was elected to the Commonwealth Legislature with the most votes of any senator from either party. In 2011, after announcing his intention to run for Governor of Puerto Rico, he was unanimously elected President of the Popular Democratic Party.

How would you assess bilateral ties with Panama?

We have enjoyed excellent bilateral ties with Panama since 1929. Today, 97% of our trade exchange concerns chemical and pharmaceutical products. This is in itself a great opportunity, as over the years this trend has opened the door to new trade and business opportunities for both countries. Our collaboration has gone also beyond these fields, and we have exported Puerto Rican services such as engineering training and infrastructure development. This experience has proven highly positive, and we currently also extending these activities to Colombia and Peru.

How has the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between Panama and the US impacted the Puerto Rican economy?

Recent studies show that as regional economies expand, so too does Puerto Rico's presence in their trade balance. Therefore, at a time of economic flourishing in Latin America, Puerto Rico is faced with numerous opportunities to expand its economic ties with these countries, while also diversifying its industrial output. Puerto Rico is a natural bridge to the US for many Latin American countries. Over the past couple of years, we have strengthened trade and logistics ties with Europe and Latin America, and have seen several European companies establishing operations in Puerto Rico to reach the US and Latin America.

Apart from the pharmaceutical industry, what other strategic sectors does your government aim to develop?

We are in the process of diversifying our economy. Agriculture and textile manufacturing have been two traditionally strong sectors in Puerto Rico that we need to revive. Meanwhile, chemical products and medical devices are two segments with the potential to boost our economic diversification. Currently, 48% of our economy depends on manufacturing activities, and we are well aware of the need to diversify to foster a more dynamic economy. In this context, we have taken positive steps within the aerospace industry, as exemplified by Lufthansa. These efforts have also enabled us to attract software production activity related to this industry. The main multinationals in this sphere are present in Puerto Rico, which is significant. They create many job opportunities for our people, and as a country we have been fortunate enough to witness a shift toward R&D activities and broader innovation in our economic activity. Meanwhile, the role tourism plays in the economy is increasing considerably, amid ever-greater arrivals. We attract many cruise companies into the country, while over 1,000 additional beds are imminently scheduled for addition to Puerto Rico's touristic offering. On a related and positive note, we have reduced crime rates by over 20% since I began my tenure as governor.

What have been your main landmark achievements since you assumed the position of Governor of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is set to pass its first balanced budget in 22 years. This will enable us to allocate more resources toward generating greater employment opportunities. We are also in the process of achieving a diversified industrial base for our economy. Chemical and pharmaceutical products, the aerospace industry, and the software production sector are three fields set to play a key role in our economy in the near future. Meanwhile, we need to transform our agricultural sector into a more efficient endeavor, and also renovate our tourism offering. These elements will enable us to become a more competitive economy in the region and the wider world.