Sep 14, 2015 - 4:00pm

Panama and Colombia: Doubling Down on Trade and Diplomacy

Former Senior Vice President, Americas

When we think of trade partners in the Americas that share our values of free enterprise, free markets, and free trade, Panama and Colombia are among the first countries that come to mind. The U.S. Chamber and its members have been engaged in both markets for decades, including spearheading efforts in the U.S. Congress to pass the now thriving bilateral Free Trade Agreements we enjoy with each nation. 

While Panama and Colombia experienced two of the highest rates of economic growth in the Americas in 2014 – 6.2% and 4.6% respectively – a decelerating growth environment across our hemisphere requires us to double down on our efforts to bolster trade and ties with our closest allies in the region. For this reason, the U.S. Chamber will break new ground this week when it collaborates with the U.S. State Department for the first time in the Americas to lead a high profile delegation of U.S. companies to Panama City and Bogota. 

I am honored to be joining senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, Ambassador David Thorne, on a trade mission that will underscore U.S. public and private sector commitment to economic diplomacy and development in both countries through meetings with senior policymakers and industry counterparts. As Secretary Kerry noted in a letter to U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue expressing support for the mission, the visit comes at a pivotal time for both countries and the bilateral economic relationship the United States shares with each. “U.S. businesses seek trade and investment opportunities in stable and secure countries with strong rule of law,” the secretary wrote. “Colombia’s advances toward a peace agreement with the FARC and Panama’s continued economic growth will bolster both countries’ long-term economic outlook and benefit the United States.”

Accompanying Ambassador Thorne and me will be a group of U.S. companies from a broad array of sectors (Energy, Financial Services, Health Care, Information Technology and Infrastructure) that have all benefited from the deeper commercial ties and expanded trade that the two bilateral FTAs have produced. We’ll arrive Tuesday to a Panama that has experienced one of the most exciting and accomplished years in its history. In April, President Varela and his administration presided over one of the most successful Summit of the Americas in the event’s 21-year history.  In addition to being the first-ever Summit in which all of the hemisphere’s heads of state participated, the Summit in Panama produced key advancements in growth-oriented initiatives such as the Americas Business Dialogue.  The visit will provide us an update on President Varela’s ambitious economic agenda, including the historic expansion of the Panama Canal, and facilitate a discussion on how to make the already successful U.S.-Panama FTA even more impactful.

We will subsequently travel to Bogota where our delegation will, first and foremost, reinforce the vibrant nature of a U.S.-Colombia trade relationship cemented by our historic 2012 bilateral FTA; an agreement that has not only seen U.S. exports rise 40% since its entry into force, but has also resulted in numerous benefits for Colombian exporters, more of which are now selling goods to the United States than ever before. We’ll also look forward to discussing a rapidly expanding international trade profile that sees Colombia taking a leadership role in the high standard Pacific Alliance, and on the cusp of accession to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Indeed, Colombia’s economic renaissance has been so impressive and transformative that those of us outside the country sometimes forget that it has happened in spite of – and even in the midst of – one of the longest-running and deadliest conflicts our hemisphere has known.   As President Santos and his government take courageous steps to negotiate an end to the violence, a core theme of our mission will be an expression of U.S. government and U.S. private sector support for investment and economic development in Colombia as the country transitions to the post-conflict era.  U.S. companies have been operating in Colombia for decades and are committed to supporting an array of corporate social responsibility endeavors, including human capital and health care development initiatives in rural areas of Colombia once marred by violence and insecurity.

As we set out on what promises to be an eventful week, we are grateful to Ambassador Emanuel González-Revilla of Panama, Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón of Colombia, and our stalwart partners at the American Chambers of Commerce of Panama and Colombia for their support of this historic mission. The time to revitalize regional growth is now, and there's no better place to start than with our closest friends. We look forward to a productive and impactful visit with leaders of government and industry that serves to advance the dynamic bilateral relationships the United States enjoys with these two key trade partners and staunch regional allies.

About the Author

About the Author

Former Senior Vice President, Americas

Jodi Hanson Bond is former senior vice president of the Americas, International Affairs Division.