Pact between U.S., Panama will further strengthen nations’ ties

Some have argued recently, including in this newspaper, that pending trade deals like the current U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement do not uphold U.S. values, which has delayed U.S. ratification of these agreements. Since Panama has already ratified the trade agreement we signed with the U.S., the implication is that a significant difference exists in the values our two countries embrace.

 As president of the Republic of Panama, I believe our country shows a daily commitment to a common set of values with the U.S. — democracy, economic opportunity and free trade. What we are seeking is a partner willing to demonstrate a commitment to us in return.

 One way we prove our commitment to these shared values is by shouldering much of the burden of addressing the threats that menace them in our hemisphere.

 Our common interests are at risk from many of the same dangers — political instability, North America-bound narco-trafficking and the broader perils of widespread poverty — but Panama has to confront them directly whereas the U.S. has the respite of distance.

 We are undertaking a significant effort on our own to strengthen our economy, creating good jobs for Panamanians while offering our trading partners a greater return on their commitment to our country and our people.

 Our efforts include reforming our tax code to help international companies support employees in Panama. We’re also modernizing immigration laws to establish a business-friendly visa regime that accommodates the travel demands of international commerce in the 21st century. Finally, we are creating an ambitious nationwide wireless broadband capability, providing access to high-speed Wi-Fi in all public buildings by April of this year.

 This concentration on making Panama open for business includes a dramatic expansion of the Panama Canal.  Adding a new channel to the canal to accommodate the largest and most modern cargo ships will facilitate expanded global trade and mean significant new opportunities for U.S. ports.

 These actions clearly demonstrate Panama’s commitment to a set of common values with the U.S. Unfortunately that commitment has been met so far by an unwillingness to act on one of the most significant, and mutually beneficial, elements of our partnership: the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement.

 Rather than highlighting a difference in values, the agreement our two countries negotiated, signed, and which our country ratified, is a practical application of the values we both profess to share. The U.S. should ratify it immediately so both countries can begin to enjoy the benefits of increased trade that President Obama has broadly described.

 I know there are some in the United States who still have concerns about this agreement. I respect their views because Panama also did not get everything we wanted. But the Trade Promotion Agreement should be the beginning of a new phase in our economic relationship rather than the end.

 Upon U.S. ratification of TPA, our two nations should also immediately begin working together on additional negotiations to identify new opportunities for combined job creation and economic growth. These talks would be a useful venue to continue work on those issues still outstanding from our original TPA negotiations.

 Because of the values we share, and our deep appreciation for the United States, Panama continues to be a long-standing ally of the U.S. in Latin America. Approving the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement will further strengthen the relationship between our two countries, offering the benefits of jobs and economic growth that both countries want.

Martinelli is the president of the Republic of Panama.