MAKING HISTORY

Panama 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, Vice President of the Republic and Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the historic significance of the Summit of the Americas and initiatives to boost Panama's competitiveness.

Saint Malo de Alvarado
BIOGRAPHY
Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado has more than 20 years of experience in advising, developing, and implementing public policies in Latin America. After her election as vice president and her appointment as chancellor, she became the first woman to hold both positions in the history of her country. She has worked for 15 years with the UN Development Program as Country Program Manager for Panama. She was awarded by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Promotion of Peace for her trajectory in building dialog and consensus throughout her professional life, the first person in Latin America to receive this recognition. She was also honored by the World Economic Forum for participating in the Global Agenda Council on transparency and anti-corruption issues.

How would you assess the legacy of the 2015 Summit of the Americas?

The Summit of the Americas, which we have hosted, has been the most important continental event in the last six decades. As a Panamanian and as part of the organization, this is a source of pride. This important space allowed us to ratify the principles that have always guided our foreign policy and the historical vocation of the isthmus of Panama as a country of dialog and a point of convergence. Panama bridged the gap and managed to establish an open and sensible dialog, which created the conditions for, for example, the first meeting of the presidents of Cuba and the US after six decades. It was the first time since the beginning of the summit mechanism that all countries of the continent participated; the agreement methodology was much more participatory and focused on inclusive development, rather than political matter; we introduced the first Forum of Rectors of the Americas to ensure that public policies advance hand in hand with the academic sector on the continent; we had the honor of receiving a high representative of the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, for the first time in the seven summits held, among many others.

According to the 2016 Global Competitiveness Index, Panama ranked 42 out of 138 economies worldwide. What is the government's strategy to continue improving the country's competitiveness?

Internal reports as well as the IMF, The World Bank, and other international entities show that Panama's economy continues to lead the region's economic growth and attracts more foreign investment, with low levels of inflation and unemployment, confirming the country's great performance and its excellent prospects, which have been strengthened after the expansion of the inter-oceanic route. The Panamanian government implements numerous initiatives that seek to further strengthen the economy, a diversified economy that has allowed us to confront and resist the different economic cycles at the international level. It is worth highlighting what we are doing to consolidate Panama as the logistics center of the Americas and continue to be a bridge between continents. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, the strategic role of our country for both regions will continue to increase. Currently, work is underway on the elaboration of a master plan for infrastructure, transport, and logistics of cargo for the Interoceanic Zone of the Panama Canal. The objective of the study is, among others, to promote the development of value added logistics services, and to order investments in transportation infrastructure in the areas surrounding the Panama Canal to maintain and increase its competitive advantages.

What should Panama do to increase its image as a transparent and reliable country to attract foreign investment?

Panama has adopted and ratified all the necessary tools and commitments to be in accordance with international standards on transparency and fiscal cooperation. Now, Panama focuses on the development and strengthening of its international financial and services platform, developing new products, services, and competitive advantages in this area. From the ministries of foreign affairs, trade and industries, and economy and finance, we promote the international investment opportunities in the country, revealing the competitive advantages of Panama, which include the great connection of the Americas, fiscal transparency, legal security, and incentives such as the multinational headquarters law. There is a special emphasis on the logistics and port sector, enhancing the advantages offered by the expanded Panama Canal, which has opened the doors to the supply of new goods, such as liquefied natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico to Korea and Japan, as well as Colombian coal and Brazilian iron ore to China. Among other investment opportunities are the value chains that can be generated with the Neopanamax ship traffic, both to supply these ships and to take advantage of the inputs they carry to add value and generate new products and services.