President Ricardo Martinelli of the Republic of Panama joined us to discuss US-Panama relations as well as overall economic conditions and democratic stability in Latin America one day after his significant and first ever, meeting with President Obama. The two leaders discussed key bilateral and regional issues including the next steps for implementing the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. They also discussed progress being made on the Central America Citizen Security Partnership.
President Ricardo Martinelli was born in Sona, Panama, in 1957. He went on to complete his secondary education at the Staunton Military Academy located less than 200 miles from here in Staunton Virginia. Incidentally, Staunton is the birthplace of this institution’s namesake, President Woodrow Wilson. President Martinelli is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and obtained a Master's degree in Business Administration from INCAE Business School in Costa Rica, one of Latin America’s leading business schools. In addition to his accomplishments in the political arena, President Martinelli is a successful self-made businessman, currently serving as chairman of the board of Super 99, a dominant supermarket chain in Panama. On July 1, 2009, Ricardo Martinelli was sworn in as the 49th President of the Republic of Panama for a term of five years. As president, he has strongly promoted a platform of change, effective government, and promoting business opportunities for his country and its citizens.
It should be noted that Panama has emerged as the 2nd most competitive economy in Latin America and one of the few countries in the region with investment grade ratings, and a country with one of the lowest rates of unemployment. The recent signing of a Tax Information Exchange Agreement between the Panamanian and U.S. governments, clears the way for the Obama Administration to begin discussions with Members of Congress regarding the enactment of the Trade Promotion Agreement. Panama is a very strong trading partner with the United States. In this regard, last year U.S. exports to Panama totaled $6.1 billion. And upon implementation of the Trade Promotion Agreement, it is expected that 88% of U.S. goods exported to Panama, will receive duty-free treatment, and there is no doubt that bilateral trade will increase dramatically.