AROUND THE WORLD

UAE 2018 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Augusto R. Arosemena, Minister of Commerce and Industry of Panama, on logistics, direct flights, and sustainable development.

What kind of expertise can be exchanged between the UAE and Panama?

Just like the UAE, Panama is an important player when it comes to logistics and international trade. During my time in the UAE I was able to visit DP World and the Jebel Ali Free Zone and witness firsthand what amazing operations they are. Panama has much to learn from Jebel Ali's level of technological sophistication and efficiency. For example, their state-of-the-art dashboard digitally interconnects all of the different aspects of their operation. Bringing aspects of international logistics like customs, regulations, and licensing onto one centralized platform makes the processes far more accessible for traders and clients.

How do the UAE and Panama differentiate themselves as logistics hubs?

Almost all free zones have what is called a one-stop-shop with all the different institutions involved in processing or awarding label permits, construction permits, and visas situated in one location. So for any logistics center, providing the client with an easy way to cut through all the bureaucracy, is very important. Taking it to the next level and having the entire platform digitalized and automated like what has happened in the UAE, is something we are working to achieve. An advantage that Panama provides is the special incentives for immigration, allowing foreigners to come in and work freely in Panama in our special economic areas. This attracts expertise and skilled workers from all over the world, which directly benefits local workers and businesses who are able to gain from their experience and insight. Knowledge transfer is very important to Panama, a small country that is still developing. Like the UAE, we also rely on expatriates to bring executive, academic, and technical skills to the country. The UAE has done this by creating an environment that embraces globalism, multiculturalism and is business friendly. We are looking to carve out a similar niche in Latin America by offering a cluster of incentives, ranging from location, to infrastructure, to ease of entry.

Panama recently revised their financial regulations to boost transparency and align with international standards. How will adopting these standards improve the market and what can be learned from the UAE's example?

In the last two years Panama has passed new laws to meet international finance standards to ensure transparency and support anti money laundry legislation, which resulted in us being removed from the FATF grey list in record time. Our experience has showed us that international standards and transparency in government are prerequisites to effectiveness and success. It's not enough to just have a resource or a specialized sector excellence in today's globalized world. As the UAE has demonstrated, adopting international standards is vital to competing internationally and pushing the boundaries of innovation is the only way to truly ensure success. The UAE attracts large amounts of FDI because their legal framework provides investors with confidence and peace of mind.

You are in the process of opening a direct flight from Panama to the UAE. What opportunities could this present for growth between the two countries?

We have seen how the drive to establish Panama as a hub for logistics, or as a hub of the Americas, has brought prosperity to Panama as well as businesses and investors who helped the country to develop. Therefore, a direct flight from Dubai to Panama would not only bring the nations closer and open up more opportunities for trade; it will also bring a region of the international business community right to our doorstep. In the same way Dubai is the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Panama seeks to be the bridge to Latin America. There is enormous opportunity as previously Panama and Latin America were deemed too far away for Middle Eastern business; a direct flight would alter the mentality. Ease of travel and ease of entry are major factors when trying to welcome the world to your country. Furthermore, the UAE is opening an embassy in Panama, marking a major step in the progression of political and economic relations between the two nations.

How has Panama prioritized sustainable development and environmental awareness?

Panama is a country that has been very consistent over the past 15 years regarding the promotion of sustainability and environmental awareness. Much like the UAE, in addition to taking part in transnational initiatives like the Paris Conference, we also taking serious steps to diversify energy sources, representing a wider global ambition to address climate change. In terms of energy, we are shifting our energy matrix to more renewable sources like wind, solar energy, hydroelectric power, and more. The UAE has led the way for this in the Gulf Cooperation Council and we are hoping to follow a similar pattern in Latin America.