Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)
With five successive elected civilian governments, the Central American nation of Panama has made notable political and economic progress since the 1989 U.S. military intervention that ousted the regime of General Manuel Antonio Noriega from power. Current President Ricardo Martinelli of the center-right Democratic Change (CD) party was elected in May 2009, defeating the ruling center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in a landslide. Martinelli was inaugurated to a five-year term on July 1, 2009. Martinelli’s Alliance for Change coalition with the Panameñista Party (PP) also captured a majority of seats in Panama’s National Assembly. Panama’s service-based economy has been booming in recent years – with a growth rate of 7.6% in 2010 and 10.6% in 2011 – largely because of the ongoing Panama Canal expansion project, now slated for completion in early 2015.
The CD’s coalition with the PP fell apart at the end of August 2011when President Martinelli sacked PP leader Juan Carlos Varela as Foreign Minister. Varela, however, retains his position as Vice President. Tensions between the CD and the PP had been growing throughout 2011, largely related to which party would head the coalition’s ticket for the 2014 presidential election. Despite the breakup of the coalition, the strength of the CD has grown significantly since 2009 because of defections from the PP and the PRD and it now has a majority on its own in the legislature. President Martinelli’s strong approval rating diminished in the aftermath of his break with the PP in 2011, but has recovered recently. President Martinelli’s has been criticized by civil society groups and political opponents for taking a heavy-handed approach toward governing and for not being more consultative. At times, strong public protests have resulted in President Martinelli backing away from unpopular policy initiatives. While Panama’s next presidential election is not scheduled until May 2014, the country will be gearing up for the race in early 2013. Martinelli is not eligible to run since Panama’s Constitution only allows for a president to return to power after two terms (10 years).
The United States has close relations with Panama, stemming in large part from the extensive linkages developed when the Canal was under U.S. control and Panama hosted major U.S. military installations. The current relationship is characterized by extensive counternarcotics cooperation; support to promote Panama’s economic, political, and social development; and a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) that entered into force at the end of October 2012. U.S. bilateral assistance amounted to $3 million in FY2011 and an estimated $2.8 million for FY2012 while the FY2013 request is for $3.7 million. This funding does not include health assistance to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria funded under regional programs or assistance allocated to Panama under the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) that assists countries in their efforts to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. A number of U.S. agencies provide additional support to Panama.
The United States and Panama signed the bilateral FTA in June 2007, and Panama’s National Assembly approved the agreement in July 2007. After more than four years, the U.S. Congress considered and approved FTA implementing legislation, H.R. 3079, on October 12, 2011, which President Obama signed into law on October 21, 2011 (P.L. 112-43). U.S. Congressional concerns had included Panama’s labor rights and tax transparency issues, but the Obama Administration worked with Panama to resolve concerns over these issues. After the FTA was approved by both countries, work began on the implementation of the agreement over the next year. The agreement entered into force on October 31, 2012, after both countries had completed a thorough review of their respective laws and regulations needed for FTA implementation.
For additional information, see: CRS Report RL32540, The U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, by J. F. Hornbeck; and CRS Report R41731, Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress, by Peter J. Meyer and Clare Ribando Seelke.
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
On June 28, 2007, the United States and Panama signed a free trade agreement (FTA) after two and a half years and 10 rounds of negotiations. Negotiations formally concluded on December 16, 2006, with an understanding that changes to labor, environment, and intellectual property rights chapters would be made pursuant to future congressional input. These changes were agreed to and the FTA was signed in time to be considered under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which expired on July 1, 2007. TPA allows Congress to consider certain trade agreement implementing bills under expedited procedures. Panama’s legislature ratified the FTA 58 to 4 on July 11, 2007, but neither the 110th nor the 111th Congress took up the agreement.
Eventually, the 112th Congress considered the FTA implementing bill. On July 7, 2011, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees held simultaneous “mock markups,” where they informally approved draft implementing bills. On October 3, 2011, the Obama Administration transmitted final implementing legislation and supporting documents to both houses, as required under TPA. Following committee action, on October 12, 2011, the House agreed to the implementing bill (H.R. 3079) 300-129, followed by the Senate 77-22. President Obama signed the implementing bill into law on October 21, 2011 (P.L. 112-43, 125 Stat. 427), but the FTA would not enter into force for another year. Panama required that time to complete changes in law necessary to bring it into compliance with the provisions of the FTA. On October 22, 2012, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) exchanged notes with Panama providing for entry into force of the FTA. President Obama implemented the agreement by proclamation on October 29, 2012, and the FTA entered into force on October 31, 2012.
The U.S.-Panama FTA is a comprehensive and reciprocal trade agreement, replacing U.S. unilateral preferential trade treatment extended under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA), the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Some 88% of U.S. commercial and industrial exports will become dutyfree upon implementation, with remaining tariffs phased out over a 10-year period. Over 50% of U.S. farm exports to Panama also will achieve immediate duty-free status, with tariffs and tariff rate quotas (TRQs) on select farm products to be phased out by year 17 of the agreement (year 20 for rice). The FTA also consummates understandings on telecommunications, services trade, government procurement, investment, and intellectual property rights.
The final text of the U.S.-Panama FTA incorporates changes based on the bipartisan agreement of May 10, 2007, crafted by the Bush Administration and leadership in the 110th Congress. These include adoption of enforceable labor standards, compulsory membership in multilateral environmental agreements, and an easing of restrictions on developing country access to generic drugs, provisions that go beyond those in previous U.S. bilateral FTAs and multilateral trade rules. Concerns raised in Congress on labor and tax transparency issues were also addressed by Panama in statute and by ratification of a Tax Information and Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States. The TIEA provides greater tax transparency in support of curbing illicit financial transactions associated with money laundering activities.
This report covers issues related to the U.S.-Panama FTA from the beginning of the negotiations in April 2004 until the FTA entered into force on October 31, 2012.
Country Specific Information: Panama
Source: U.S. Department of State
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Panama is a constitutional democracy with an executive branch led by a president who is elected to a 5-year term, a unicameral legislature, and judicial branch. The country is divided into 11 provinces and one territory and became independent from Colombia on November 3, 1903. Panama has a rapidly developing economy but suffers from a weak, non-transparent judiciary. Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. The U.S. dollar is the paper currency of Panama, and is also referred to as the Panama Balboa. Panama mints its own coinage. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Panama for additional information regarding the people, culture, government, economy, and history of Panama.
Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)
With five successive elected civilian governments, the Central American nation of Panama has made notable political and economic progress since the 1989 U.S. military intervention that ousted the regime of General Manuel Noriega from power. Current President Ricardo Martinelli of the center-right Democratic Change (CD) party was elected in May 2009, defeating the ruling center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in a landslide. Martinelli was inaugurated to a five-year term on July 1, 2009. Martinelli’s Alliance for Change coalition also captured a majority of seats in Panama’s National Assembly. Panama’s service-based economy has been booming in recent years, largely because of the ongoing Panama Canal expansion project (slated for completion in 2014), but economic growth slowed in 2009 because of the global financial crisis and U.S. economic recession. Nevertheless, the economy rebounded in 2010, with a growth rate approaching 7%, and strong growth is continuing in 2011.
President Martinelli retains high approval ratings, but he has been criticized by some civil society groups for taking a heavy-handed approach toward governing and for not being more consultative. The country experienced labor unrest in July 2010 after the government approved legislation that would have weakened labor laws in several respects, but the government ultimately agreed to repeal the provisions. In February 2011, the government amended the country’s mining code to facilitate foreign investment. Indigenous groups protested the law even though President Martinelli vowed that his administration would not approve any mining concessions in indigenous areas. Ultimately, in early March 2011, President Martinelli called for the repeal of the law.
The United States has close relations with Panama, stemming in large part from the extensive linkages developed when the Canal was under U.S. control and Panama hosted major U.S. military installations. The current relationship is characterized by extensive counternarcotics cooperation; support to promote Panama’s economic, political, and social development; and a proposed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). U.S. bilateral assistance amounted to $7.3 million in FY2010 while the FY2011 request is for $10.6 million and the FY2012 request for $2.6 million. This funding does not include assistance in FY2008 and FY2009 under the Mérida Initiative to assist Central American countries in their efforts to combat drug trafficking, gangs, and organized crime; beginning in FY2010, Panama has been receiving assistance under the successor Central America Regional Security Initiative.
The United States and Panama signed a bilateral FTA in June 2007, and Panama’s National Assembly approved the agreement in July 2007. Neither the 110th nor the 111th Congress considered the agreement, but the 112th Congress could consider the agreement this session. Issues that have raised congressional concern relate to worker rights and to Panama’s tax transparency. In the 112th Congress, several measures have been introduced that would express support for the FTA with Panama: S.Res. 20 (Johanns) and S. 98 (Portman), both introduced January 25, 2011; and H.Res. 86 (Frelinghuysen), introduced February 11, 2011. For additional information, see CRS Report RL32540, The Proposed U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement; CRS Report R40622, Agriculture in Pending U.S. Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea; CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America; and CRS Report R41731, Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.
See also: The Proposed U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement (PDF)