ISRAEL, PANAMA MEET FOR SECOND ROUND OF NEGOTIATIONS ON FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
Negotiations Get into High Gear as Israeli Delegation Arrives in Panama
JERUSALEM – March 3rd, 2015 -- A 12-strong Israeli delegation headed by Ministry of Economy officials and comprised of professional staff from relevant government ministries are in Panama City to participate in a second round of negotiations for a free trade agreement between Israel and the Republic of Panama. The negotiations are part of the Foreign Trade Administration at the Ministry of Economy's policy of expanding Israeli exports to new markets, and the Israeli government's policy of strengthening relations with Latin American countries.
The agreement is expected to serve as another springboard for Israeli service providers - especially in software, communication, information security, engineering and R&D - thus expanding the potential of this and related markets.
The second round of talks began Monday in Panama City and will last four days. Twelve working groups are expected to discuss the following subjects: access to markets, customs, services and investments, intellectual property, protection of flora and fauna and veterinary aspects, trade obstacles, institutional issues and conflict resolution. Two more rounds of talks are expected before the negotiations are completed.
Head of the Foreign Trade Administration in the Israel Ministry of Economy Ohad Cohen said: "The Israeli Ministry of Economy continues to strengthen Israel's economic ties with countries around the world with an emphasis on developing economies with great potential for growth. In this case, we are expanding Israel's economic footprint in Latin America, in accordance with our policy of expanding export horizons for Israeli industry and service sectors. The agreement will forge new opportunities for Israeli companies and give them a competitive edge against foreign companies. Panama is a signatory to free trade agreements with many countries including the US, the EU, Canada, EFTA countries, Singapore, Taiwan, Peru, Colombia, Chile and Mexico. A free trade agreement with Panama will level Israel's position regarding trade benefits with those countries."
Mrs. Yifat Alon-Perel, Director, Bilateral Trade and Economic Agreements at the Ministry of Economy and head of the Israeli delegation to the talks said: "Free trade agreements constitute a significant framework for Israeli exports. Today, about 65% of Israeli exports go to countries with which Israel shares free trade agreements, giving exporters benefits regarding customs and a competitive edge. The Foreign Trade Administration continues to work for the benefit of Israeli exporters by guaranteeing their products remain competitive and by ensuring easier access to new markets while striving to remove trade obstacles exporters typically face in these markets. Israeli exporters enjoy a competitive advantage in Mexico thanks to the longstanding free trade agreement our countries have enjoyed since 2000, as well as to the Mercosur states, including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In addition, one year ago a free trade agreement was signed with Colombia which is expected to go into effect in about a year. Our goal is to increase Israeli industry's competitive advantage by signing agreements with more countries, including Panama. Tightening economic ties with Panama is doubly important both for opening new markets for Israeli industry and for strengthening Israel's standing among Latin American countries."
According to the Foreign Trade Administration at the Israeli Ministry of Economy, the economy of Panama is based primarily on a developed service sector which constitutes more than three quarters of its GDP and includes the operation of the Panama Canal, logistics, banking, the free trade zone in Colón, insurance, ports, shipping registration and tourism. Economic growth in Panama in 2013 exceeded 8% and is attributed - among other factors - to the widening of the Panama Canal which began in 2007 at a cost of $5.3 billion. Additional infrastructure development projects expected to take place in the country may very well draw Israeli firms with relevant expertise.
Panama is a candidate to join the Pacific Alliance, a bloc of Latin American nations including Mexico, Colombia (both of which enjoy free trade agreements with Israel), Chile and Peru. The bloc includes 200 million consumers and a joint GDP of over $3 trillion. This constitutes 35% of the total GDP of Latin American countries and over 50% of Latin American trade. Israeli exports to Panama in 2014 stood at $25 million and imports from Panama at $3 million.