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Panama Economy
 
 
 
 
 

General

Panama's economy is mainly based on a well developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading and private industries, because of its key geographic location. The handover of the Canal and military installations by the United States has given rise to some construction projects. A referendum regarding the building of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal was approved overwhelmingly (though with low voter turnout) on 22 October 2006.

The official estimate of the building of the third set of locks is $5.25 billion. The canal is of economic importance since it pumps millions of dollars from toll revenue to the national economy and provides massive employment. The United States had a monopoly over the Panama Canal for 85 years. However, the Torrijos-Carter Treaties signed in 1977 began the process of returning the canal to the Panamanian government in 1999.

The high levels of Panamanian trade are in large part from the Colón Free Trade Zone, the largest free trade zone in the world Western Hemisphere. Last year the zone accounted for 92% of Panama's exports and 64% of its imports, according to an analysis of figures from the Colon zone management and estimates of Panama's trade by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Panama's economy is also very much supported by the trade and exportation of coffee and other agricultural products.

The Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between the governments of the United States and Panama was signed on October 27, 1982. The treaty protects US investment and assists Panama in its efforts to develop its economy by creating conditions more favourable for US private investment and thereby strengthening the development of its private sector. The BIT with Panama was the first such treaty signed by the US in the Western Hemisphere. A Trade Promotion Agreement between the United States and Panama was signed by both governments in 2007, but neither country has yet approved or implemented the agreement.

Tourism in the Republic of Panama kept its growth during the past 5 years. The number of tourists arriving between January and September 2008 was 1,110,000, 13.1% or 128,452 visitors. This was a significant increase to the 982,640 travelers who had arrived in the same period of 2007, a year that beat all records regarding the entry of tourists into the country.

The arrival of tourists from Europe to Panama grew by 23.1% during the first nine months of 2008. According to the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), between January and September, 71,154 tourists from the Old Continent entered the country that is 13,373 more than figures for same period last year. Most of the Europeans who have visited Panama were Spaniards (14,820), followed by Italians (13,216), French (10,174) and British (8,833). From Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, 6997 tourists arrived. Europe has become one of the key markets to promote Panama as a tourist destination.
In 2007 1.445.5 million entered into the Panamanian economy as a result of tourism. This accounted for 9.5% of gross domestic product in the country, surpassing other productive sectors.

Panama´s Law No. 8 is still the most modern and comprehensive law for the promotion of tourism investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. In so-called Special Tourism Zones, Law 8 offers incentives such as 100% exemption from income tax, real estate tax, import duties for construction materials and equipment, and other taxes. Panama has declared different parts of the country as Special Tourism Zones which are benefited with multiple tax exemptions and tax holidays.

Overview

Economy - overview
Panama's dollarised economy rests primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for 80% of GDP. Services include operating the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, and tourism. Economic growth will be bolstered by the Panama Canal expansion project that began in 2007 and is scheduled to be completed by 2014 at a cost of $5.3 billion - about 25% of current GDP. The expansion project will more than double the Canal's capacity, enabling it to accommodate ships that are now too large to transverse the transoceanic crossway, and should help to reduce the high unemployment rate. The United States and China are the top users of the Canal, and while a lower volume of cargo is expected to transit the Canal with the global economic slowdown, higher transit fees will result in a net increase in revenues. Strong economic performance has not translated into broadly shared prosperity as Panama has the second worst income distribution in Latin America. About 30% of the population lives in poverty, however, during TORRIJOS's term poverty was reduced from 40% to 30% and unemployment dropped from 12% to 6%. In 2009, the world recession reduced the amount of revenues Panama earned through global shipping that transits the Canal. Not a CAFTA signatory, Panama in December 2006 independently negotiated a free trade agreement with the US, which, when implemented, will help promote the country's economic growth.

GDP (purchasing power parity)
$40.33 billion (2009 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate)
$24.75 billion (2009 est.)

GDP - real growth rate
2.4% (2009 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP)
$11,900 (2009 est.)

GDP - composition by sector
agriculture 6.3%
industry 18.2%
services 75.5% (2009 est.)

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