Panama and China will begin negotiations in June 2018 to sign a
free-trade deal, the two countries’ trade ministers said on Thursday7 December
2017, consolidating a relationship that has strengthened after the Central
American nation ditched ties with Taiwan.
Panama’s June decision to end diplomatic links with Taiwan was a
major victory for Beijing, as it lures away the dwindling number of countries
that have formal relations with the island China claims as its own. Last month,
a senior Chinese diplomat said China will provide Panama with whatever help it
Talks to sign a free-trade treaty will begin in June next year,
said Panama Trade Minister Augusto Arosemena, who was speaking in Panama City
alongside his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan.
“We agree that we need to accelerate the feasibility study of
the bilateral FTA in order to promote cordial negotiations as soon as
possible,” said Chinese Trade Minister Zhong Shan, while on an official visit
to the Panamanian capital.
“We hope to complete the pre-feasibility study (of the FTA) in
June 2018 and immediately launch the negotiations,” Panama’s Trade and Industry
Minister Augusto Arosemena said at the same press conference.
Zhong said that the fact of traveling to Panama just two weeks
after Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela’s visit to the Asian country
“shows once more the sincerity of China for strengthening economic and
commercial ties with Panama.”
The Chinese official said it was important to accelerate talks
to open up trade between the two countries and deepen commercial links.“China
is willing to stimulate its companies to actively participate in the
construction of infrastructure in Panama, including ports, that would be based
on mutual interest,” Zhong said.
China and Taiwan have tried to poach each other’s allies for
years, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations,
though Taipei now struggles to compete with an increasingly powerful Beijing.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, who signed 19 deals during
a visit to Beijing last month, told Chinese state television in September the
decision to switch recognition to China had nothing to do with “checkbook
October, a group including China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) began
building a $165 million port in Panama for cruise ships, the first project
announced between China and Panama since they established diplomatic ties.