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Panama awaits Duque with commercial and security issues on the agenda

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  • Sun, 09/09/2018 - 20:26
Iván Duque
  • Iván Duque
  • EFE

Colombian President Iván Duque will arrive in Panama on Monday for a visit in which security and trade issues are expected to focus on the meeting with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.

The Foreign Ministry of Panama has informed that both presidents will hold a private meeting at Las Garzas palace, which will then be expanded with the participation of senior officials from both countries, whose relations have been marked in recent years by the tension caused by a trade dispute.

According to the official agenda, Varela and Duque will issue a joint statement at the end of the extended meeting, after which the Colombian president will participate in a business meeting.

Precisely the Panamanian business sector has asked Varela that in Monday's meeting it is clearly established the course of the tariff dispute between the two countries since 2012, and in which the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled in favor of the Central American country.

"We urge President Juan Carlos Varela, in his meeting with his Colombian counterpart, to set out strongly and decisively the Panamanian position and if there is no favorable response, to apply, as soon as possible, effective retaliation measures."

This was expressed last Thursday in a statement by businesspeople from the Panamanian Colón Free Zone (ZLC), the largest in the continent and located in the Panamanian Caribbean, whose re-exports of footwear and clothing are affected by taxes in Colombia.

The tariff dispute began in 2012 and has gone through several stages, including a WTO ruling in favor of Panama that forced Colombia to suspend a mixed tariff in November 2016.

This mixed rate was replaced by the Colombian government by two decrees that tighten customs controls and that make it more difficult to import footwear and textiles from the ZLC, said the Panamanian authorities, who have responded by raising the rates to some Colombian imports, including coffee.

Another effect of the tariff dispute is the suspension in Panama of the ratification process of a free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia, signed by the two governments in 2013, after four years of negotiations.

The bilateral relations have also been blurred in recent years by the tax issue, because Colombia seeks Panama to provide this kind of information on its citizens without the need for a judicial requirement.

In addition to the commercial and financial issue, President Varela has highlighted that security is one of the priority issues in the bilateral agenda.

In the framework of the inauguration of Duque last August, Varela said that in a meeting both discussed "the importance of working in coordination with Costa Rica and the United States to ensure the increase of interdiction and the decrease of drug trafficking".

Varela has reiterated his concern about the increase in cocaine production in neighboring Colombia by linking homicides and other criminal acts in Panama with drug trafficking.

"We are a country that does not export problems (...) once again I respectfully call on the countries of the region to strengthen our coordination, especially in Colombia, where specific measures have to be taken against the increase in crops," said Varela months ago in a meeting of the Security Council.

EFE

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