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Panama 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Héctor M. Cotes M, President of Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE), on focusing on Panama's strategic planning, the importance of coordination between the private and public sectors, and enticing businesses to move to Panama.

 Héctor M. Cotes M.
BIOGRAPHY
Héctor M. Cotes M. is the President of APEDE. He is also the Financial and Administrative Director of Electron Investment, a renewable energy generation company. He has an educational background in industrial engineering and holds an MBA in finance from Nova SouthEastern University.

What would you highlight as main initiatives over the past year?

Panama is growing at higher levels compared to other countries in Latin America. Having growth rate above 5% is great, though there are still challenges in order to ensure this growth is more inclusive in terms of other sectors and different regions within Panama. Economic growth in 2017 was mainly because of logistics, transport, and the Panama Canal, while sectors such as construction, commerce and retail, and others are not that well prepared for the slowing economy. In terms of most of the population being largely employed in retail and agriculture, the slowdown of the economy was noticeable in 2017 and carried on into 2018. We are still in the process of adjusting to this slower pace of growth. At the same time, there are also many opportunities with China. We have always maintained that Panama requires a clear vision of what it needs in the short and medium term so that we can negotiate with China in terms of a win-win situation.

How is APEDE working to increase coordination between the private and public sectors for social and economic stability?

Panama is betting on increased coordination between the two sectors as a way of communicating amongst all the stakeholders or constituents of Panama. Since 2014, APEDE has prepared and presented a Country Vision, presenting a set of documents as a road map to highlight and focus not only on the short term but also on Panama's strategic planning. At present, the association is working to expand this vision, with the revision from 2025 to 2050. That vision cannot just come from APEDE or the private sector; it needs to include workers, the academia, and politicians. For example, we are getting information that also plays an important role in the National Competitiveness Center (CNC). As President of APEDE, I am also President of the CNC, so we have opportunities to work together and establish a united vision.

What are the main advantages of investing in Panama?

The biggest advantages are Panama's USD-backed macroeconomic stability, investment rate, and financial infrastructure in the sense that credit can be obtained in a more competitive way compared to other regional countries. Also, we have certain regulations like the SEM law that provides benefits, so it makes sense for a company's regional headquarters to be located here. Moreover, Panamanians have an open mindset so foreigners do not feel like strangers here. However, we still need to provide more advantages to entice companies to move their businesses here. Tourism is important; the country still relies significantly on tourism, and we need to work as hard as our neighbor Costa Rica to get to the top. We are still in the process of getting our marketing together in order to have a clear branding of Panama. Our challenge as a country is to have initiatives like logistics and tourism in terms of the country branding to boost continuity and consistency over a period of five years. People can then identify with a stable campaign and a stable way of doing business.

What advice would you give to the next President of APEDE?

We have to raise the standards every year in order to remain a beacon in terms of what we can provide as an organization to the country and society as a whole. APEDE is driven by principles of liberty, democracy, ethics, and education, therefore, we need to contribute to build a better society based on these aforementioned principles and convert them into concrete actions, changes in public policies, and inquiries to government for transparency and accountability. At the end, what remains is a great satisfaction from contributing to a better country with stronger institutions, specifically by being part of the change rather than being a mere spectator.