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Panama 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Massimo Zannier, President of COINLA, on the ideal conditions for a free trade zone, harnessing Panama's comparative advantages, and maximizing its exposure to the Pacific.

Massimo Zannier
BIOGRAPHY
Massimo Zannier is a civil engineer born in Italy and raised in Venezuela and has been developing a large number of industrial, commercial, and residential projects for the last 30 years as the CEO of ROCA Group. He founded and is the president of the Industrial Consortium of the Americas (COINLA).

Can you give us some background into COINLA and its activities in Panama?

COINLA is a consortium created specifically to develop the Panapark Free Zone, a 520,000sqm project of land with roughly 300,000sqm of construction development. In turn, this will create 3,000 direct jobs. Our vision for Panapark Free Zone is for it to become the largest private FTZ in Panama. COINLA is formed by three groups of entrepreneurs: Roca Group, Repro Group, and Shahani Group. Roca Group, to which I belong, has built more than 6,000 houses, five industrial parks, and shopping centers and office buildings. In conjunction with the Shahani Group, it has finished over 15,000 housing units and 510,000sqm of industrial facilities. We are familiar with Panama because we had already developed a pilot project here, Las Americas Free Zone, which began after the Panamanian government passed Law 32 to promote the creation of industries and new jobs. At that time we saw an opportunity because companies could from then on own the land to build warehouses and industries, which gives them the opportunity to ask for financial loans from the banks. Before, they were unable to do so, which is why Panama did not have many free zones for small and medium businesses. Panama was falling behind neighboring countries and had the least number of FTZs in Central America. Costa Rica, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic have many more, but this law will open new opportunities for companies willing to build new industrial parks and FTZs here. Now, Panama has better conditions for FTZs with the expanded canal and a solid, dollarized economy, both important features for activating a new FTZ. The government is pushing to build new projects in the eastern part of the city, where it is expanding the subway and airport.

In a market characterized by increasing competition, what competitive aspects must a good free zone offer?

Excellence and quality in terms of design, infrastructure, and technology. This must be a national project that is a reference point and highlights the many qualities and advantages of Panama for the development of free zone companies and industries.

What other incentives are there for investors willing to buy or rent your warehouses and how do you promote the new park?

Investors have to be based inside the Panapark Free Trade Zone. There are also some requirements that they have to add some value to their products, not to mention create jobs and give something back to the sector. Almost all of the companies that export can be in the FTZ; the great thing is that they do not have to pay taxes on profits or property values. The government also promotes immigration benefits; a company that invests USD250,000 can have a special visa for its staff who work in the FTZ. The park will be an appealing platform for doing business and has attracted the attention of both regional and international investors. We conducted a study that allowed us to understand the countries we have to focus on; there is an important market in Asia, especially in China and Korea. There are also the Pacific South American countries like Ecuador and Peru that want to establish activities and companies here in Panama.

What is your main target for 2017?

The main target for 2017 is to deliver the first 60,000sqm of a high-quality park in October. Due to the time spent on construction and the technology used, some parks do not have the quality that they should. A free zone that does not meet all the necessary standards will not attract foreign companies to rent or buy. This year we also started the first stage of tailor-made warehouse solutions as well as the selling of big lots for transnationals.