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2012 – “A very good year” for Canada-Panama relations

The Panama-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) got its final ratification by the Canadian Senate in December. It was the climax of, what for Canadian Ambassador Sylvia Cesaratto had been a “Very Good Year.”

The current Canadian administration, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been following through on its promise to make expansion of trade with Latin America a focal point of foreign affairs, which has led to Canad signing more FTA’s than any other country. Peru, Costa Rica and Colombia are among other regional countries that have broadened their ties with what was often regarded as a sleeping giant far away in the north. Panama saw two ministerial visits and numerous business delegations during the year, while Canadian tourists continue to flock to Panama, aided by charter flights carrying passengers to locations like Playa Blanca and Decameron. The now firmly established Copa Airlines direct flights to Toronto, makes access to Canada’s biggest city, and the area known as The Golden Horse Shoe, faster and easier than to most major cities in the US beyond Florida.

With the FTA, Panama can look forward to more direct investment from Canadian sources, although they will be hard stretched to match that of Inmet, whose Minera Panama project will be the biggest ever in Panama, outstripping even the expansion of the Panama Canal with a $6.5 billion investment in the world’s second biggest copper and gold mine. The development includes the building of roads, bridges, a railroad and port, along with training programs and community projects as it builds a massive long term labor force and likely adding more to Panama’s GDP than the Canal. Ambassador Cesaratto is quick to point out that Canada has strict rules on how Canadian owned mining operations function, wherever they may be operating, and Minera has been setting an example to other countries around the world with its concern for the environment, going beyond what local legislation might require.

The FTA is likely to become fully effective in the Canadian spring, which, depending on which part of Canada you live, is around April and May. For Panama’s agricultural industry it should show early beneficial results with increased outflow of tropical fruits and coffee without a countervailing inflow. There are also opportunities for Canadian investment in the agricultural and construction industries and the financial sector. Panama’s consumers could benefit with possible increased imports of high quality root vegetables like potatoes. The ambassador, is half way through her Panama posting, following assignments in South Africa, Brussels (the headquarters of the European Union) and London and the first half term has been action packed.

In between heading a dynamic trade mission, hosting visiting delegations, looking after her four children, exploring Panama’s diverse topography and culture, she has made time to become a well-known figure at community functions involving not only Panama’s fast growing Canadian population, but multiple other events. For example while the FTA was receiving Royal assent, she was overseeing the delivery of a Canadian pine from Quebec. The tree, a gift from the embassy, was destined to become a center piece at the pre-Christmas Carols By Candlelight event in Casco Viejo.

Earlier in the year she had delivered a collection of books by Quebec writers to the French Lysee  and  she  actively promoted an  exhibition  of  photos of the Canadian Arctic regions. She was active in supporting an exhibition of paintings by newly minted Canadian artist Germain Courchesne, and ensured embassy support for a visit of young Canadian entrepreuners visiting Panama under the Global Vision flag, and throughout the year was an active participant in the activities of the CanadaPLUS Club. A busy year indeed. Wherever she goes she constantly, projects her country’s image in the unpretentious manner long recognized as Canada’s persona. That points to more very good years ahead.

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