BRITISH INTERESTS

Panama 2017 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: UK INVESTORS IN PANAMA

Panama remains an attractive destination for UK investment, from pharmaceuticals to logistics.

The UK remains one of the leading investors in Panama. Despite HSBC selling its holding in Panama to Bancolombia, or what is now known as Banistmo, the UK has maintained a solid and robust level of investment that has been centered around several major investors that continue to operate in the country. One of them is London and Regional Properties, which currently manages Panamá Pacifico.

GSK could also impose itself as a paradigmatic investor, a successful case study within the pharmaceutical industry. At its factory in Juan Díaz, GSK produces all the Panadol for Latin America. UK Ambassador Ian Collard commented to TBY: “Panadol is manufactured here in incredibly high-tech facilities. This is not just the case of being strategically located, which of course Panama is; the country has developed a high-tech facility. GSK is a substantial employer in Panama, employing around 300 people in its factory. It has also set up its intellectual headquarters in Panama, and its regional management is located here. This has proven crucial for many other investments that we have seen from the British side.”

The Colón Free Trade Zone remains an appealing platform that UK investors are capitalizing on to expand their operations on a regional scale. Collard commented: “GSK not only uses Panama as a place of doing business; it also uses it as a place to distribute its goods because of the high-tech facilities available. GSK can get those products that are manufactured here, such as its vaccines, out to the market quickly because of Panama's geographical position.”

UNILEVER, an international company headquartered in London, has made the most of Panama's logistics platform. The company, the second-largest home consumer goods company in the world after P&G, “employs over 200 staff and has built up a large office in Panama,” Collard noted. “The country represents a significant part of its business; around USD2.5 billion worth of its global business was conducted from its office in Panama.”

Another British company that has come to Panama, Solarcentury, considers Panama a regional hub for its operations. Enrique de Ramon, General Director for LatAm at Solar Century, stressed to TBY the importance of the company's operations both in the local and regional market: “We have a wide regional presence, being one of the most influential companies in this sector. Renewables, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV), is a booming, challenging, and competitive sector, with many companies seeking to take advantage of the opportunities.” Solarcentury built one of the largest solar plants in Panama and in Central America.
British investors are currently promoting crucial sectors such as life sciences, education, and transport, with a strong focus on rail and maritime. “Maritime is a huge opportunity because the UK is a historical maritime nation, though Panama is certainly considered the prime maritime nation currently because of its Canal, the two busiest sea ports in Latin America, and the large number of ships—25-26%—carrying the Panamanian flag.”

Urban planning has become a huge growth driver for the UK, which caught on to the smart cities concept more than a decade ago. In Panama, British companies are putting some of that expertise into use in the context of urban planning. The redevelopment of Colón, a USD600 million investment, will turn the city back into a beautiful jewel on the Caribbean. The master planning was carried out by Atkins, which also did the master planning of Panamá Pacifico and Avenida Central. In addition, Metro Bus, a British transit company that operates buses and trains in the UK, was given a two and half year-concession to work on the bus system here.
Education is a priority for Varela's government and the UK's involvement in the Instituto Técnico Superior Especializado (ITSE) project reconfirms how the UK fosters and encourages the development of this crucial sector: “We helped to design the roadmap of ITSE and are now doing a marketing program. We have worked with the government to develop new curricula.”