By:Camron Moore Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:Heads of State
The Logistics of Building a Collaborative Country
In a time when countries and economies across the globe face the challenge of finding new and innovative ways to do business, the Biennial of the Americas offered an opportunity for 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere to engage in open dialogue about what’s working, what’s not, and how countries can work together. “The Biennial of the Americas provided an exceptional forum that fostered open communications and provided the opportunity to learn from each other and share the stories of our countries. In today’s world, communication is the name of the game. We must recognize our interconnectedness to better education, which affects poverty, the economy, healthcare, and so many other areas,” said Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta, former president of Panama. "Political relationships among countries today have much to do with people’s relations. The more our peoples know the realities of each other, improve their abilities and opportunities to communicate peacefully, find common ground, and identify mutually interesting opportunities, the better our political relationships will be." - Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta
Throughout the Biennial, participants shared stories of successes and failures, which support the need for more in-depth political relationships throughout the region. Barletta said, the Biennial had a huge impact because, “Political relationships among countries today have much to do with people’s relations. The more our people know the realities of each other, improve their abilities and opportunities to communicate peacefully, find common ground, and identify mutually interesting opportunities, the better our political relationships will be.” And for success to manifest, it will take collaboration and leadership, and there is perhaps no better place to look than Panama.
While Panama has always been a globalized economy due to its strategic geographic location, it has become a major hub for trade and business across the Americas, and around the world. Recent figures estimate that, 4.3% of world maritime trade transits the Panama Canal, and 35% of Asia Pacific trade to the East coast of the USA transits the canal. These impressive figures demonstrate Panama’s current role in global logistics, but the canal is currently undergoing a $5.2 billion expansion project that will increase capacity for both volume and size of vessels, further growing Panama’s role in global trade. Additionally, Panama hosts the Colón Free Trade Zone (CFZ) the second largest free trade zone in the world, located at the Atlantic entrance to the canal. The CFZ has a total activity volume of $19 billion per year, and is home to an international banking center that last year had deposits of over $578 billion and over $65 billion in assets.
Building on the success of the canal, Panama has worked diligently to build an infrastructure that will allow it to continue to grow its global footprint. The recently completed Tocumen International Airport, one of the most modern and technologically advanced airports in Central and South America, provides the much increased capacity for both passengers and cargo needed to continue the growth trends. To complete the inter-modal transportation triangle the Trans-Isthmian Railroad runs between the Pacific and the Atlantic ports, and handles approximately 360,000 containers per year, in addition to offering luxurious passenger service through the lush jungles of Panama.
While the future of Panama is highly anticipated, success will not be met without great effort. When asked what are the greatest challenges facing Panama today Barletta responded, “There are two major challenges – the full development, modernization and strengthening of our institutions and the development of the full potential of the people through education and training. Panama is a small country with a small population, yet with a worldwide outreach in a globalized economy. We must apply the highest standards to do business and to maintain our openness to international business. Institutions and trained people are indispensable to manage those opportunities successfully. We are emphasizing education and training, institutions, infrastructure, openness and promotion to continue attracting business here. The clustering of complementary activities and a good modern quality of life are also a high priority.”
Although education and training is the most important input for his people’s development, they still have a long way to go. He said that continued development and promotion for the advancement of economic growth through education is paramount to Panama’s growth. “We have a sufficient quantity of education, including universities. But we have to improve the quality and relevance of it. The university enrollment in Panama per capita compares to the levels of developed countries. Panamanian young people want to study and improve. But we have to give them the quality needed in today´s world. We need to continue emphasizing a humane education attentive to values and our culture, as well as increasing emphasis in technology and innovation.” » "There are two major challenges (facing Panama) – the full development, modernization and strengthening of our institutions and the development of the full potential of the people through education and training." - Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta
A challenge that is strongly interconnected with education is poverty – the divide between the haves and have–nots – is prevalent in Panama and across the Western Hemisphere. “Today, 28% of Panamanians are still poor – an unacceptable figure. Two thirds of those Panamanians are poor in rural areas, and one fourth of them are native indigenous people,” remarked Barletta. However, the influx of new jobs, education and health facilities caused poverty to be reduced from 37% to 28% from 2002 to 2008. Although Panama is making strides, Barletta reminds us that, “We need to increase our programs and efforts because 43% of Panamanians are younger than 20 years old and 56% of the poor are also younger than 20 years old. We need to emphasize education, health, nutrition, basic needs, information, and gender equality for the poor of our country.”
With a quick glance at Panama's recent growth in trade, employment, education, and GDP and its reduction in overall poverty levels you can infer that this is a country on the rise, due in part to its strategic geographic location, but due in greater part to collaborative, transformational leadership like that of Dr. Nicolás Ardito Barletta.