Panama sees exports grow despite copper output 

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By LatAm Reports Staff Writers

Apart from the cessation of copper extraction, which had been driving in general terms the quantity and value of Panamanian exports, the rest of the export basket closed last April its best four months since 2010. 

The report of the Office of Commercial Intelligence (Intelcom), attached to the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MICI), indicates that, between January and April, the value of Panamanian exports was $283.3 million, exceeding the $278 million reported in the same period last year.

With the copper exit from the Panamanian export offer, the banana recovered the post as the main Panamanian product sold abroad with $41 million, 12% of the total value recorded until the end of April. It is followed by frozen shrimp with $29 million, raw cane sugar with $25.3 million, raw teak with $17.4 million, iron or steel waste with $14.2 million, antihistamine and antipyretic drugs with $11.3 million, fresh watermelons with $9.5 million, raw palm oil with $7.9 million and rum with $6.4 million.

Made with Flourish

Bianca Morán, president of the Panamanian Association of Exporters (Apex), commented that, with the exit of copper, it is important to increase the volume of export and the variety of the offer, but highlighted the behavior recorded during the first quarter. Traditional products have had a small but interesting increase in exports. Since the measure of export through special areas, we can see that they are increasing as well,” he said.

Adding exports from companies operating in special areas, Panamanian shipments abroad reached $382 million.

In addition to reducing the volume and value of Panamanian exports with the cessation of the copper mine, the destinations of Panamanian products were also reconfigured. Between 2019 and 2023, China took the top spot as it was the main copper consumer extracted from Donoso, Columbus.

However, the United States regained the top job, with the destination of $57 million in domestic products until last April, followed by the Netherlands with $42.5 million, Taiwan with $35.8 million and India with $18.6 million.

In the case of the United States, cane sugar, fresh fish, bananas and coffee are the main products sent by Panamanian exporters. The Netherlands is the entry of exports of fruit to Europe, especially bananas, watermelon, melon, papaya and palm oil.

This week, the company Captain Piña sent two containers (to Spain and the Netherlands) with the patrimony variety MD2. Spokesmen for the company reported that the shipments were the result of participation in the Macfrut – Fruit & Veg Professional Show, which took place in early May in the Italian city of Rimini.

Panamanian exports grow despite copper output

The company Captain Piña sent two containers after obtaining contacts at the fair MACFRUT – Fruit & Veg Professional Show that took place in early May in the Italian city of Rimini. Courtesy

On the other hand, crustaceans, frozen beef and aluminium waste are the main exports to Taiwan, while to India 80 per cent of shipments are wood products, especially teak, followed by a smaller percentage by copper and iron waste.

Made with Flourish

On timber exports, Morán indicated that 10,000 containers are already being exported a year, but pointed out that the certified and sustainable wood sector must move towards the production of products with added value, where the highest demand is.

He explained that a group of Panamanian timber exporters have participated in recent weeks in fairs and specialized meetings in the wooden segment to know the demand for the market and the certifications requested by European buyers. He also stressed that Panamanian timber exporters should know their buyers better to stop working with intermediaries.

Intelcom’s report highlights that 78.2% of the accumulated exports until April 2024 were sold to countries with which Panama has some existing trade agreement. In the case of trade blocs, the European Union ranks first, followed by the Central American Common Market (MCCA) and the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI).

As for Mercosur, which would be one of the markets that President-elect José Raúl Mulino will seek to boost from July 1, exports between 2018 and the first quarter of 2024 reached 39.8 million dollars, with 2018 being the year with the highest volume of the last 15 years, when the volume exported reached 8.4 million dollars.

Mulino has indicated that he would seek to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur, which is composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, which together represent a market of 273.9 million people. Following Mulino’s words, Intelcom carried out an analysis of the opportunities that Panamanian exporters would have in that market and found that Panama would have competitive prices in the countries that make up the bloc, in addition to having a preferential tariff and experience in the export of products consumed in that market.

Apex’s president said the incoming government should focus on modernizing institutions to boost foreign trade, because it is easier to import than export.

We must make a plan of the exporter where the systems of the institutions involved in foreign trade are modernized, because while the Ministry of Commerce and Industries has a high percentage of digitization of its processes, in other ministries such as Agricultural Development and My environment the history is different and the platforms do not connect with each other to facilitate bureaucratic formalities,” he explained.

He indicated that the sector has a defined roadmap of the points that need to be improved and noted that they have already requested an appointment with the new authorities to establish an action plan to boost Panamanian exports.

Regional overview

After falling 1.3% during 2023, exports from Latin America and the Caribbean closed the first quarter of 2024 with an equal growth of 1.3%, according to the update report presented this week by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The report highlights the recovery in shipments to Asia and the United States, which partly offset the decline in exports to Europe and weak interregional exchange.

While the latest data indicate that the export contraction phase has been interrupted, there is still no indication that a sustained commercial expansion path is being consolidated in the region. Looking ahead, the balance of risks to the region’s commercial performance appears substantially neutral, although the forecast points to a moderate growth path and a high level of uncertainty, the IDB highlights.

In Central America, Costa Rica was the only country to record a positive balance at the end of March with a growth of 15%, especially due to a higher sale of fruit and sugar. In the case of Panama, it was the country with the largest fall, with a decrease of 79%, due to the paralysis of copper exports.

After Panama they follow El Salvador with a fall of 13.7%, Guatemala with 9.4%, Honduras with 9%, Nicaragua with 5.2% and the Dominican Republic with 3.7%.

This article has been translated after first appearing in Prensa