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Quel Panama was an expression used in France at the beginning of the last century to describe an unsolvable muddle. It became popular after Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps attempted – but failed catastrophically – to dig the Panama Canal after his success with the Suez Canal.

Given the stand-off that has brought work to expand the canal to a near halt, it’s an expression that would well be in vogue again. But after weeks of wrangling the Panama Canal Authority and the construction consortium working on one of the world’s great trade conduits have shaken hands in a deal aimed at finishing the project by the end of next year. Continue reading »

Stop press: the two sides wrangling over who should foot the bill for $1.6bn cost overruns in the building of new locks as part of the Panama Canal’s $5.2bn expansion are talking – days after a deadline set by the Spanish-led construction consortium to down tools came and went.

But neither the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) nor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the Spanish-led consortium in charge of the $3.2bn lock project, would say what they were talking about. Continue reading »

Fernando Núñez Fábrega, Panama’s foreign minister, is on a trip to Britain this week. The point of the visit is to sign his country’s 25th double taxation treaty. But he is likely to find people more interested in his views on Chinese plans to build a rival to Panama’s canal in another Central American nation. So, before he left, beyondbrics asked him what he thought. Continue reading »

Panama, with a reputation as a Latin American growth superstar, suddenly has a diplomatic hot potato on its hands.

The country knows a lot about international shipping – 4 per cent of international trade passes through the Panama Canal. But after intercepting a North Korean-flagged vessel carrying arms from Cuba to Pyongyang, the government has called in the (pardon the pun), big guns: the UN. Continue reading »

Latin America’s banking scene has long been dominated by the big European and US players. But as they retreat amid tough economic times at home, the stage is set for local players increasingly to flex their muscles.

The latest such Latin American bank to snap up an expansion opportunity is Chile’s BCI, which has bought the City National Bank of Florida from Spain’s bailed-out Bankia for $882.8m. Continue reading »

The invasion of Central America by Colombia’s major financial groups rumbled on on Tuesday after Bancolombia, the country’s leading bank, snapped up HSBC’s operations in Panama for $2.1bn. Continue reading »

Mother Nature has dealt Central America a lousy hand. Earthquakes, floods and hurricanes of biblical proportions have battered the isthmus over the years, but the latest natural disaster is a botanical one.

A plague known as “coffee rust” has hit the region’s top-quality arabica crop. Premium blends from coffee grown in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama are much loved by aficionados. Continue reading »

The Panama Canal was once christened “one of the world’s greatest labour mobilisations.” Almost a hundred years after its inauguration, that monumental public work is still boosting the country’s economy.

The narrow nation will grow three times Latin America’s average of 3.1 per cent this year. According to the latest report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, Panama’s economy is expected to expand by 10.5 per cent in 2012. Last year, the country grew 10.8 per cent. Continue reading »

These are tough times for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor: a nasty welcome in Athens last week, an increasingly contentious conflict with François Hollande, the French president, over banking union, and a fierce attack on her crisis management in the German parliament.

So it must have been nice to get a pat on the back this week, even it if was from an unlikely source: Ricardo Martinelli, president of Panama, who told Merkel on a visit to Berlin he would like to introduce the euro as Panamanian legal tender alongside the US dollar, because he has “full confidence in the euro, full confidence in Europe.” Continue reading »

With the $5.2bn expansion of the Panama Canal, a new metro and airports under construction, along with a raft of luxury hotels, Panama’s 3.5m population can hardly satisfy demands on the nation’s workforce.

And now it’s official. Panama is the number one hotspot for jobs in the Americas. The most recent survey by Manpower shows that Panama has a 26 per cent net trend towards job creation – the percentage of companies that aim to hire people in the fourth quarter subtracted by those who aim to lay off personnel. Continue reading »

Accor on Monday gave its clearest signal yet that it sees its future in emerging markets by snapping up the South American hotel portfolio of Mexico’s Grupo Posadas for $275m.

The move comes less than two months after the French hotel group sold its underperforming Motel 6 chain of US budget hotels to Blackstone in a $1.9bn deal and will  see Accor join rivals such as Hilton, Starwood, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Marriott in the race for EM hotel assets. Continue reading »

Growth in Brazil, India and China might be losing steam, Europe might be mired in its sovereign debt crisis and the US might continue to limp along. But at least there’s Panama.

In this year’s first quarter, Panama’s economy was in double-digit growth mode at 10.4 per cent year on year, according to Frank De Lima, the finance minister. Continue reading »

It has become commonplace for recession-savaged western companies to seek fresh fortune in emerging markets – especially in Brazil, the world’s second biggest emerging economy.

But that’s not the case for at least one western multinational wanting to boost its sagging domestic sales. Gap Inc, the US clothes retailer, is eschewing Brazil in its Latin American plans and looking for its retail El Dorado among the smaller but faster-growing economies of Spanish America instead. Continue reading »

Indigenous Panamanians protest recent changes to the country's mining lawThere’s gold in them thar Central American hills. Gold and several other valuable minerals. Mining companies, especially Canadian, are courting the region yet most of the governments are playing hard to get, if not being openly hostile.

All of which must be pretty perplexing to at least some of the companies. World prices of metals remain high while Central American economies are some of the world’s most vulnerable. Surely a slam-dunk for the miners? Continue reading »

Panama City has been transformed in recent years into a “Dubai of the Americas”, complete with a Trump Tower – a real-estate boom fuelled by double-digit growth.

But the go-go economic policy of the nation’s president, Ricardo Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon, has suddenly hit trouble in the face of protests. Continue reading »