VIBRANT TIMES

Panama 2015 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Freundel Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados, on relations between his country and Panama.

The Port of Barbados has an agreement with MIT in Panama, and Barbados and Panama are also in talks for air agreements. How would you evaluate economic relations between both nations and where do you see the potential for further growth?

Panama and Barbados have enjoyed long relations. Between 1904 and 1914 alone it is estimated that about 60,000 Barbadians came to Panama, most of them destined for work on the Panama Canal, with many more having previously come to help the French with their Canal project in the 1880s. Since then, the relationship has been close. So-called “Panama money," as it is known in Barbados, contributed much to the development of the country's wealth in the form of the remittances of Barbadian guest workers. We are currently trying to deepen that relationship. In 2010, we signed a double taxation agreement to bolster Barbados' vibrant international business and finance sector, viewing Panama as an important partner in this. We are now trying to get our air services relationship solidified. I am meeting with the head of Copa Airlines in this context, as there are currently no flights into Barbados from Panama. They have direct flights to many of our neighboring countries; therefore, we hope to elicit some positive responses from them during this meeting and eventually establish improved connections so that Barbadians can easily travel to Panama. We also want the large diaspora that we have here in Panama to be able to travel more easily to Barbados, so that, for example, they can attend the Diaspora Conference that takes place every two years in Barbados. There is a call for still more deepening, and more specifically we hope to develop commercial activity between the two countries. As far as I am concerned, the future looks bright and we know what we have to do to strengthen the relationship. We are going to be doing that with all the vigor required.

What are Barbados' priorities in the region?

We have an economy that is driven by tourism, which is our primary sector, followed by international business and financial services. In both of these areas we think we can benefit from a closer relationship with Central and South America. As of now, most of our business in those two areas comes from the North Atlantic and then from other parts of the Caribbean. We have not been able to penetrate the Central and South American market as we had wished thus far. We are committed to ensuring that this state of affairs changes, and hope that legislation newly put in place to better accommodate people interested in investing financial services will work. On the whole, we hope that once we establish the air links, more Latin Americans will come to Barbados. Of course, traditionally there has been a language barrier; however, an airline from Brazil now flies to Barbados, and if we can get Copa into Barbados, it would provide access to South America. We want to leverage our competence in the English language and strong educational infrastructure to attract Latin Americans interested in honing their English language skills. Barbadians are also interested in improving their Spanish language skills, meaning this could be an ideal exchange. Therefore, this can be a win-win situation between the Caribbean and Latin America, and between Barbados and Latin America we are striving to bring this about.

“Between 1904 and 1914 alone it is estimated that about 60,000 Barbadians came to Panama."

The VII Summit of the Americas took place in Panama this April. What would you say is its significance in the dialog between the Americas?

This has been dominated by the fact that it is the first Summit in many years to involve the entire family of nations in this hemisphere, as Cuba has agreed to join us, too. It demonstrates the successful beginning of normalization between Cuba and the US. Barbados is very pleased about this of course, because we were one of the four nations in 1973 that took the bold step to decide that Cuba's regional isolation must come to an end. This is when we established diplomatic relations with Cuba along with Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica. We have continued to fight for Cuba's integration into the hemisphere as a legitimate member of the community, so one can imagine our contentment over the course of this Summit. We think that the interactions between the leader of Cuba and the US represent a great leap forward.

Where do you see the future of relations between Barbados and Panama?

I believe that the language barrier has separated us from one another. As such language barriers are broken down, all of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will come together. We are all working toward that, and Barbados is not going to be left out. We are seeing a deepening of the cultural relationship between Barbados and Panama. Recently, I heard from Barbadians living here about how ingrained Barbadian habits and mores are in certain parts of Panama, including culinary habits. They are all present here, meaning there is hope for expanded cultural exchanges and for citizens of the two countries to get to know one another better. There is hope for a deepening of our economic relationship through tourism and international business and financial services. In addition, on a political level, we have a strong diplomatic relationship, and I believe that it is only a matter of time until Barbados establishes an Embassy in Panama and vice versa.

© The Business Year - May 2015