Picture this — a modern city with a sprawling skyline, bustling seaports, and superb infrastructure that attracts businesses and investors from around the world. Dubai would be the first city that comes to mind — however these characteristics describe Panama City, a dynamic trading and logistics hub connecting the Americas.
Panama and Dubai share many synergies as gateways to their respective regions. The two economies benefit from a strategic geographic location, while they are also diversified, well-connected, and geared toward foreign trade, logistics, financial services, and tourism.
It is these strengths and similarities which have paved the way for expanding links between the two economies. Over the last few years, the UAE and Panamanian governments have stepped up their efforts to boost political and economic cooperation. A lot has happened since the UAE opened its embassy in Panama in 2017.
The expansion of the Panama Canal not only results in an economic boost to Panama, but also transformed global trade in a major way.
Dubai’s non-oil trade with Panama surged by over 118 per cent from $19.4 million in 2015 to $42 million in 2018. Nearly half of Dubai’s trade with Panama is dominated by foodstuff, followed by machinery and electric/electronic equipment, and transport equipment.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela led a high-level delegation to the UAE in 2018 to attend the second Global Business Forum (GBF) Latin America. During the forum, Panamanian government officials and businessmen showcased attractive investment opportunities that are emerging across Panama, while they also used the opportunity to build relations with key public and private sector stakeholders in the UAE.
Building on this momentum, Dubai Chamber opened a representative office in Panama City last June after already establishing a presence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2017. These moves have helped us more effectively promote Dubai as a strategic hub which Latin American companies can leverage to expand their reach in markets across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
We took this strategy one step further by opening our third Latin American office in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a natural move as we scale up our outreach efforts in the region.
Fast forward to today when we are gearing up to usher in a new area of UAE-Panama cooperation. Later this week, heads of state, policymakers, ministers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and industry experts from the UAE and Latin America are descending on Panama City where Dubai Chamber is organising the third Global Business Forum Latin America.
This marks the first time that GBF Latin America is held outside of Dubai and Panama is the ideal destination to host this landmark event. That being said, the strong interest and high-level participation in the forum is very encouraging and reflects growing global confidence in Dubai.
The forum in Panama coincides with a Dubai Chamber-led trade mission to the country, joined by UAE government officials and businessmen who are actively exploring growth prospects in the market. This is not the first time that we bring UAE companies to explore Panama and I am sure that there will be many more in the future.
Panama offers a wealth of investment opportunities within its growing logistics sector where new logistics parks and special economic zones are being developed. Meanwhile, the country is scaling up its tourism infrastructure and invests in emerging sectors such as fintech and renewable energy.
All of these developments mirror Dubai’s remarkable growth story, and we look forward to sharing our experience and insights with our Latin American counterparts in Panama. With the buy-in from UAE and Latin American business communities, a strong appetite for international expansion and the possibility of a Dubai-Panama direct flight on the horizon, I would say that the best is yet to come.
Hamad Buamim is President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Chair of the World Chambers Federation.