Denis Kellman, Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development delivering the feature address at the official opening ceremony for the trade mission in Panama. (F. Ince/BGIS)

Barbados and Panama are "on the verge of cementing air links as a vital element" in their efforts to strengthen cooperation in the areas of tourism and culture.

This disclosure came last evening from Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development, Denis Kellman, as he delivered an address during an official opening ceremony for the trade mission currently in Panama.

Mr. Kellman said officials had come to this stage following the successful conclusion of negotiations for an Air Services Agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding on Air Services during the first round of negotiations in July 2011.

He told his audience, which included business people from both countries, that as part of Barbados’ strategic objectives to diversify its tourism source markets and generate new business out of Latin America, it had been pursuing the goal of securing direct air services out of Panama City by COPA Airlines since May 2009.

"COPA is seen as an ideal partner for Barbados as an airline and Panama as a destination in view of several factors, including the estimated population of 336,000 people with the means and propensity to travel to Barbados; [and] access to COPA’s network that will permit significant expansion of tourist arrivals out of Central and South America," he explained.

Added to that, Mr. Kellman stated, the viability of the flight should be further supported by the presence of descendants of Barbadians who worked on the Panama Canal, as well as the Colon Free Trade area which would encourage a steady stream of Barbadian business people who now travel to that South American country.

The Minister suggested that Barbados’ unique geographical position had placed it as a natural hub for the Caribbean to the United Kingdom (UK) and said it could serve as a direct and hassle-free gateway to the UK.

"While a direct flight to Barbados from Panama would be five hours, travellers from Panama would benefit from the Visa Abolition Agreement existing between the two countries – which would make travel far more convenient than the challenges of passing through Miami International Airport, USA, where visas and security demands present challenges to travellers worldwide. Barbados believes that this symbiotic connection would facilitate COPA in entering the European market," he added.

Mr. Kellman stressed that Government officials were looking forward to the early start of discussions on the proposed Partial Scope Trade Agreement (PSTA) with Panama. He said both countries had invested heavily in trade in services and suggested that should help to inform the scope of the PSTA during the negotiations. "The importance, therefore, of this trade mission to Panama should not be underestimated and should serve to inform the Barbados trade negotiators," he observed.??

In the wide-ranging address, the Minister disclosed that several initiatives had been under consideration to cement the cross-linkages between both countries. He listed them as including the twinning of Panama City with Bridgetown, as well as the establishment of a "Friends of Barbados" chapter in Panama and a "Friends of Panama" chapter in Barbados.

"Also proposed is the erection, in Barbados, of a Centennial Monument in recognition of nationals … whose labour contributed to the construction of the Panama Canal, and in Panama, the erection of a monument to Caribbean workers. These are all initiatives worthy, in my view, of a new look," he stated.

The trade mission, headed by Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, will leave Panama on Sunday, October 23, for Costa Rica.


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