Minister??of Tourism, Richard Sealy, and Minister of Industry, Small Business and Rural Development, Denis Kellman, in discussions with Chief Executive Officer??of COPA Airlines, Pedro Heilbron. (F.Ince/BGIS)

A big success! That’s how Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy, has described the five-day diplomatic and trade mission to Panama which ended yesterday.

Mr. Sealy said the mission went "extremely well" and it was "a very productive week for all, not only our government officials who were locked in discussions with their counterparts here, but also for our business people who were seeking new markets."

Mr. Sealy noted that "Panama is very keen to extend its trade linkages into the Caribbean. The same trade deficit that we in Barbados and the Caribbean have with Latin America, Panama has also seen it in relation to trading with the Caribbean. If you look at the majority of business done in the Colon Free Trade Zone, the overwhelming majority of it is done with Latin America.

"When we visited the Ministry of Tourism, we were informed that 70 per cent of the country’s tourists come from Latin America, and only 10 per cent come from Europe and Asia. So, they really want to strengthen the linkages with the Caribbean; and, as we have been saying all week, historical connections are extremely strong between the two countries and we have to take advantage of them."

The Minister pointed out that one of the highpoints of the mission for him was "finally having face-to-face" discussions with the President and Chief Executive Officer of Copa Airlines, Pedro Heilbron. "This is something we have been trying to do for two years, and being a part of this mission, it was able to happen in two days… We were able to put our case [forward] and it is clear that flight connection is certainly going to happen, sooner rather than later, and we are very happy about that," he reported.

Barbadians and their descendants turn out in great numbers for the Diaspora Meeting, last Thursday, in Panama. (F.Ince/BGIS)??

Mr. Sealy added that he was "very encouraged" by the large number of Barbadian descendants living in Panama who attended the diaspora meeting last Thursday night. "The best evidence of the necessity of this mission came in the way we saw Panamanians reacting to the local products on display, they could not get enough of the samples," he noted.

Barbados’ Ambassador to Washington, John Beale, who has responsibility for Panama and Costa Rica, echoed the Minister’s views, saying he was astounded at how strong the island’s link with the descendants was after 100 years. "To see the commitment and almost passion that some of the old timers had was quite amazing," he declared.

Mr. Beale also observed that the mission was a success, but advised the business people in the delegation that they would have to work hard to follow up on the initial interest shown.????????????????????

Meanwhile, several of the representatives of the Chambers of Commerce from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States praised the initiative, stating that the region needed "to work together to realise tangible trade benefits, and the mission was a good start".

They cautioned that with some economies still struggling because of the global recession, the time had come for the Caribbean islands to stop competing against each other and "cooperate a lot more".

Having completed the Panama leg, the mission left for Costa Rica today, where it will mount similar trade promotional activities until this Thursday.


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