Introduced by Roxanne Cabral, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Panama
Thank you, Roxanne, for that kind introduction. It is a great pleasure to be here for tomorrow’s inauguration of President-elect Laurentino Cortizo. We are all looking forward to that historic event.
We hope the new President can build a strong consensus, and that his term fortifies Panama’s current period of financial and economic stability, and further strengthens its regional leadership.
President Trump and the American people wholeheartedly support the President-elect, and we wish him well.
We know how special the bonds are between our two nations, dating back more than a century.
Panama is an important strategic ally of the United States, a regional leader, and it is doing an extraordinary job operating one of the most important waterways in the world.
Even the name of the country is used as the global standard for the size of ships plying the world’s oceans. The larger NeoPanamax ships, inspired by the expansion of the Canal, have transformed ports on every continent, and especially on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and the Gulf Coast.
There are massive new investments being made in dredging, docking, and logistics infrastructure, as well as the creation of major new LNG terminals for tankers already moving through the expanded Canal locks.
The United States is committed to strengthening our partnership with Panama: to helping tackle the problems facing our shared neighbors; and to promoting investment and economic growth to stabilize the entire region.
Panama is one of America’s strongest and most capable partners. The United States is the biggest foreign direct investor in Panama, with a stock of nearly $4.7 billion and more than 150 U.S. companies operating here. Secretary Pompeo visited Panama last October, and our investment in the Panamanian security forces has transformed the country into a solid ally, leading our joint efforts to counter narco-trafficking, terrorism, and transnational crime. Panama has one of the region’s fastest growing economies, and total trade between our two nations is almost $7 billion.
Panama represents a favorable market for U.S. exporters, thanks to our geographic proximity; Panama’s use of the dollar; and a familiarity with U.S. brands and companies. And the Panama Canal is a key facilitator for U.S. trade with Latin America and beyond.
Fifty percent of all U.S. LNG exports pass through the Canal, and that number is growing. U.S. vessels make up 68 percent of all transits; and more than 100 Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard ships move through the canal annually.
The Panamanian government has signaled its intention to attract more U.S. companies. As Panama’s largest trading partner, we’ll help identify opportunities to mobilize private investment, increase trade, and create opportunities for the both countries.
U.S. companies are well positioned to provide Panama with high-quality products and services, but they are often competing with foreign countries that provide favorable, though predatory, financing. The United States is stepping up to that challenge, with new programs to help American companies win these bids, WITHOUT placing undue financial burdens on Panama or other countries in the region.
On October 5 of last year, President Trump signed the BUILD Act into law to mobilize and facilitate the participation of private-sector capital in the economic development of less developed countries. This Act will retool and expand the U.S. government’s approach to development finance.
It will more than double the cap on OPIC’s portfolio from $29 billion to $60 billion, and it will enable the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to provide more support for private-sector investment in Panama. We will continue to stand with you and fight against corruption here and elsewhere in the region. We want all trade to be free and fair, so that American companies can bid on tenders in competitions that are open and transparent.
We look forward to working with the business community here in Panama to strengthen the long-standing economic and cultural ties between our two nations.
Thank you, and again, it is our honor to be here on such a promising occasion.