THINKING AHEAD

Panama 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to John E Meredith, Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Panama, on the Chamber's focus on SMEs, building peer-to-peer connections, and the importance of recruiting more young people and women.

John E Meredith
BIOGRAPHY
Prior to John E Meredith’s appointment as Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Panama, he was the Managing Director of Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd, where he led the development of 52 major international ports around the globe. He is a founding member of the Wellington Trust, a Freeman of the City of London, recipient of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and is holder of the National Decoration of Grand Officer of the Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

How would you describe the role that the Chamber takes to support the business environment in Panama?

The UK is one of the top four investing countries in Panama. The Chamber provides British companies with contacts and advice as to where to seek the information required regarding feasible investments in Panama. In addition, we help Panamanian companies who seek assistance and information on opportunities in the UK. Importantly, a prospective member of the Chamber doesn't need to speak English, be British, or have a link with the UK; the Chamber is a multi-lingual organization. A large part of our activities is helping peer-to-peer connections between our members through our various activities. Moreover, we provide the Panamanian government with feedback regarding concerns of our members.

What are the main factors that make Panama attractive for British investors?

We seek to build on our established presence in Panama. The Chamber is increasing its focus on SMEs because they need greater assistance as compared to big firms. In a nutshell, we are complimenting the activities and growth of the UK Embassy, which has long established a formidable trade presence in Panama; we are well placed to explain what Panama has to offer from a businessman's perspective. The fact that Panama's economy is based on the dollar is a great advantage because the majority of investors, especially those seeking to open new businesses, have concerns regarding local currencies in Latin American markets. The region presents investors with huge opportunities; however, currency fluctuations and instability have caused investors to shy away from the region expect for Panama. On top of this, the Panamanian market is well placed from a logistics hub perspective as connectivity is important to prospective investors. One initiative that would further boost the interest of British investors is a direct flight from Panama to the UK; the Chamber is working with the government to overcome this hurdle.

Where can reforms be implemented to facilitate the country's economic growth?

First and foremost, education is of prime importance if Panama is to continue along its already formidable growth path. The Chamber will increase efforts to help companies with improving English language standards as well as the general quality of education in the country. Since English is the language of business and higher education, improving the education system should be the number one target. Equally important is to maintain the rule of law; the lack of the rule of law is highly criticized by the local population and prospective investors. Consequently, the Chamber will closely follow the future progress and intentions of the government, especially changes in the Constitution.

What incentives do you offer members and what is your strategy to attract new ones?

The Chamber holds different weekly activities including the now famous Ascot Races, Golf Day, and Annual Business Forum. In addition to regular lunches with guest speakers, we have social evenings where members can get to socialize and exchange ideas. Our members also enjoy a wide selection of discounts at various establishments in Panama. We also work with other British organizations such as the Anglo Panama Cultural Association, British Aid group, Caravana, and the Annual British Ball. Since the Chamber is a non-profit organization, it supports various charities, especially those focused on education.

What is your main goal for 2018?

In 2018, the Chamber will continue building on the hard work undertaken by our predecessors. In particular, we want to see increased recruitment of younger members who will set up their own boards and activities; it is vital to ensure that the Chamber stays relevant to the younger business community. Finally, we are planning activities for women under their own executive in order to appeal to a larger part of the community.