Spanish businessmen are looking with "new eyes" at the Panamanian Colón Free Zone ZLC), due to the change in their business strategy and the "opportunities" that make it a platform for investment and diversification of exports.
This was summed up to EFE by the president of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce of Panama, Even Chi Pardo, after a meeting in which the manager of the ZLC, Manuel Grimaldo, described current figures and the new model of business of the second largest free port in the world, after Hong Kong.
"Panama is the 25th destination of Spanish world investments, a small country in that position is very interesting and we are looking at two aspects: to promote new Spanish company investments and that the current partners take advantage of the opportunity," he said.
Chi acknowledged that the "ZLC has not been a relevant area of arrival of Spanish investment in the last decade," adding that the investment, according to official data from Spain to 2017, "is at 2,700 million euros (about 3,075 million dollars) in the last decade, it is estimated that less than 5 percent has been destined" to the free port.
In 2017, imports from Spain to Panama reached 380 million euros (about 432 million dollars), "of which a lot came directly to Panama without going through the ZLC".
"We have observed a strategic change that opens up great opportunities for Spanish investment to take the ZLC as a space for the export not only of those goods to Panama, but to the Central and South American region," Chi added.
Panama is the main destination of the investments of Spain in Central America, said the executive, who acknowledged that the Panamanian free port would be an additional destination "with its new strategy, to link the logistics issue, the electronic commerce, to become a center of distribution".
There are 130 Spanish companies in the Chamber, mostly medium-sized companies, which come from the hand of large companies that today are the forefront of Spain's direct foreign investment in Panama, which reached 44.5 million euros in 2017 (50.69 million dollars), in the energy sector, telecommunications, transport, construction, insurance or food.
"The Spanish economic crisis opened the eyes of many Spanish companies that it is necessary to diversify our investment portfolio and America is a natural destination," he added.
Grimaldo stressed that this year the free zone, located in the Atlantic city of Colón and 80 kilometers north of the Panamanian capital, will reach a growth of "more than 10 percent", similar to the Panama Canal and has achieved in the last 15 months to increase the number of employees from 19,000 to 25,000.
He recalled that due to the international crisis in 2015, the number of jobs decreased from 33,000 to 15,000 in the 1,064-hectare free port, with 2,650 companies authorized to operate.
The general manager of the free zone specified that operating costs have been reduced and estimates that next January the offer of electronic commerce will be massively launched with "ample advantages" to make it competitive with Amazon or Alibaba.
He explained that from January to October of 2018 a volume of transactions (imports and re-exports) exceeding 16,380 million dollars was reached, 1,600 million more than in the same period of 2017.
"South America, the Caribbean, Central America, the United States and part of Europe" are the destinations for the re-exports of the ZLC, said Grimaldo.