Panama's president praises CIIE, China's open market for boosting business
Updated 23:20, 11-Nov-2018
Panama has more to offer the world than its famous canal, financial services and hats, with President Juan Carlos Varela highlighting the importance of ties with Beijing during a speech at the China International Import Expo on Thursday.
Varela, who was warmly welcomed by Panamanian entrepreneurs, Chinese officials and business partners at the Panama Food Pavilion in the expo, underlined the importance of quality agricultural products that his country had to offer, while calling the CIIE "the most important expo in the world" for global trade.
Varela said "China's open market had brought great opportunities" for Panama, with many agricultural products such as meat and pineapples receiving official certification from China, opening the door "for a large number of these products" to be exported to China.
23 companies from Panama are showcasing their goods and services at the CIIE, with Varela saying he "hoped to see over 100" companies at next year's expo.
Varela said the CIIE was a chance to "emphasize our role as a logistical center," while bringing about "closer ties between China and Latin America."
Later on Thursday in an interview with CGTN Espanol, Varela said "marked progress has been made in China-Panama relations" in the past 18 months, with the establishment of the Panama embassy in Beijing and consulate in Shanghai.
Varela also told CGTN Espanol that Panama was hoping to welcome more Chinese tourists in the near future, with 30,000 visitors expected this year, and a target of 50,000 in 2019.
In June 2017, Panama formed ties with the People's Republic of China, with Varela describing how the period of diplomatic relations with Beijing had seen increased exports for companies from his country.
Panama is geographically an ideal location for trade, and has been the fastest growing economy in Latin America, and one of the fastest worldwide in the past decade.
While much of that economic growth is based on a strong services sector, particularly in finance and commerce, Panama's presence at the CIIE sees a strong focus on the country's goods available for export.
President Varela sampled coffee, honey syrup and spoke with entrepreneurs responsible for businesses that export fruit, seafood and rum. Pineapples from Panama are widely regarded as among the best in the world, while the world's most expensive coffee comes from the country of 3.8 million people.
Panama's Esmerelda Geisha coffee can cost hundreds of dollars for just a kilogram, underlining the quality produce the country has to offer to consumers in China.
Talks on a free trade agreement between China and Panama are still ongoing, and set for a third round later this year. China is already the second biggest user of the Panama Canal, and the biggest supplier to the Colon Free Trade Zone, the largest free port in the Americas. 
Eric Dormoi, head of international business development with Exporta Consulting, a Panama-based company focused on facilitating trade, told CGTN that while China had long been doing business with Panama, the establishment of diplomatic ties means progress can be made on official initiatives like a free trade agreement, which will be a major boost to the region.