Since the creation of the state of Panama goes hand in hand with the construction of the Panama Canal, the work of Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps represents French-Panamanian shared heritage. In addition to our similar positions on many multilateral issues, our relationship with Panama is focused chiefly on two priorities: economic diplomacy and cooperation in vocational training and higher education.
Our political relations are marked by high-level meetings: between Matthias Fekl, French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, and Augusto Arosemena, Vice Minister of the Presidency of Panama, in June 2015; meeting between President Juan Carlos Varela and the French President François Hollande on 10 June 2015 in Brussels, during the summit between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (EU-CELAC Summit). Ms Isabel de Saint Malo, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Panama, made a visit to France from 28 October to 1 November 2015 during which she met in particular with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Secretary-General of the Elysée Palace. Lastly, President Varela visited Paris on the occasion of COP21 at the end of November/beginning of December 2015.
France and Panama disagree, however, on financial transparency issues: in an order dated 8 April 2016, the Ministry of Finance and Public Accounts decided to once again add Panama to the list of non-cooperative States in tax matters; this measure is set to take effect on 1 January 2017.
France’s economic presence in Panama has been greatly strengthened since the 2000s (e.g. trade, direct investment and major contracts). French companies have participated in many large-scale projects to support the development of Panama: a contract was won by the Degrémont company in 2009 to build a water treatment plant, inaugurated in 2013; the third bridge over the Panama Canal at the end of 2012, built by the French contractor VINCI; the first underground line opened in April 2014 (built by the Alstom, Thales, Cim-Tso, Sofratesa and Systra consortium) and the contract for the second line was won in July 2015.
French investments are relatively diverse, and come from almost 20 subsidiaries of large groups. Half of these groups were set up in Panama over the past five years and most use the country as a regional platform for action and management of their networks of subsidiaries and customers in the region, while keeping an eye on the local market.
Our trade increased in 2015 (€380.4 million) compared to 2014 (€309.4 million).
French cooperation with Panama is part of our cooperation in the region, the two main priorities of which are a focus on security, governance and human rights and an outreach policy based on educational, linguistic and university and scientific cooperation.
The French cultural network consists of a secondary school (Lycée Paul Gauguin, 383 students) and two Alliances Françaises, in Panama City and in David, province of Chiriqui, totalling 1000 students). In June 2012, an Additional Protocol was signed to the 1967 Agreement on Cultural, Technical and Scientific Cooperation between France and Panama. This text made it possible to sort out the legal situation of the Lycée’s teaching staff, by way of derogation from the Panamanian law limiting the number of foreign employees in a company at 10%, and to formalize recognition of the Lycée Paul Gauguin by the Government of Panama.
France and Panama are also cooperating on vocational training: together, they are developing initial and continuous training for technicians and engineers in several fields, including rail maintenance, energy, construction and public works. To this end, in January 2015 a French expert from the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research was posted to the Panamanian Ministry of Education.
Updated: 17 May 2016