Imports and Exports to Panama: opportunities for business

What do we know about consumers in Panama?

Panama is home to 4 million inhabitants with Spanish being its primary language. The top earning 10% in Panama possess more than 40% of the nation’s wealth, while the poorest 10% share only 1.1% of the total national earnings. This shows a huge discrepancy between the have and have-nots segments of Panama’s society.

Specific consumption trends show that Panamanians are consuming more eggs as a replacement to beef. From 2005 to 2015 there was a 57% increase in egg production driven by this rising demand. Likewise, fish consumption in Panama is 23 kilos per capita, a figure above the world’s average rate. This trend is driven by a boost in purchasing power and a wider choice of seafood available in the country. Since 2014, there also has been a change in dietary choices of Panamanian consumers, with a larger number opting for low calorie, gluten-free, and healthier products.

With an urbanisation rate of 2.23% annual increase, today Panama’s urban population is 68% of the total population. This urbanisation process has boosted the renovation, construction and developmental sectors of Panama with hotels, offices, plants and residential establishments sprouting up in Panama City at a rapid rate.

What are Panama’s main import products?

  • Fuels
  • Machinery
  • Vehicles
  • Iron and Steel rods
  • Pharmaceuticals

Who are Panama’s top import partners?

  • US (18.8%)
  • China (20.8%)
  • Japan (15.9%)

Which are Panama’s prime cargo airports?

  • Tocumen International Airport
  • Jose Marie Cordova International Airport

Which are Panama’s prime container ports?

  • Colon Container Terminal
  • Balboa Port

What are Panama’s import regulations?

The import process in Panama is efficient and smooth. A government registered customs broker will assist you to clear the products through the customs process.

Panama does not require import licences. A commercial or industrial license is sufficient to import most goods into the country and engage in commercial activities. For non-food agricultural items, Phytosanitary permits are required while arms, ammunition, fertilisers and certain foods are the ones that require special import permission, which can be obtained from the Ministry of Security.

Import documentation for Panama includes:

  • Import declaration
  • Commercial invoice
  • Airway bill
  • Bill of lading
  • Commercial licence number
  • Phytosanitary certificate (where applicable)
  • Certificate of free sale (if required)
  • Certificate of origin

Prohibited products include:

  • Counterfeit coins or printed material that imitates currencies
  • Equipment or instruments for manufacturing coins
  • Liquors, wines, beers or medicines with labels that falsely describe contents, or of any kind of harmful preparation
  • Certain firearms and war materials
  • Foreign lottery or raffle tickets
  • Opium in the form of gum or for smoking
  • Obscene brochures, books, newspapers, magazines, or postcards containing negative portrayals of the country’s culture, civilisation or dignity
  • Plants, seeds, or animals (determined by the  of Agriculture)

Panama’s free trade agreements

Panama’s main free trade agreements are with the US, Canada, the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) with North America being its top trade destination. The EU is Panama’s second largest trade partner.

The Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) between the Unites States and Panama in 2012 dropped Panama’s import duties to nil for 87% of product categories being imported into the country. Exceptions to this zero duty rule include certain food and agricultural products, which they are predicting will also be phased out over the coming years.

These FTA’s cover areas of financial services, government procurement, trade of goods and services, investment, protection of intellectual property among others.

The distribution set-up in Panama

In Panama, direct importers can act as the wholesalers or retailers for the distribution and sale of their products. Specific industries such as consumer goods, and food and medicine are sold through the retail mechanism. For industrial products, the process is implemented via local agents, distributors, or then directly ordered from the manufacturer. The area of retail or shopping facilities in Panama requires major development, however, to keep up with the world.

The Panama Canal reconstruction and expansion project was completed in June 2016. This is predicted to boost Panama’s trade operations even further.

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