Panama's pro-business stance is unlikely to be impacted by its recent change in leadership, experts say. Former vice-president Juan Carlos Varela was the surprise victor of the country's May general election, fighting off competition from opposition candidate Jose Domingo Arias, who had been handpicked by outgoing president Ricardo Martinelli.
During his time in office, Mr Martinelli oversaw the simplification of Panama's tax regime and signed a free trade agreement with the US. These efforts have boosted the country's business attractiveness, and it is widely believed that Mr Varela recognises the importance of these changes.
“Panama’s market-friendly blueprint has transformed the country into the most dynamic economy in Latin America. As such, no incoming president, Mr Varela included, will do anything that might endanger the current growth model,” said Michael Henderson, principal analyst for Latin America at Maplecroft, a risk forecaster. “The new president is generally seen as an open-market conservative, suggesting the country will remain accommodative to foreign businesses."
In fact, Mr Henderson believes that Mr Varela will make more positive changes to Panama's business environment, tackling some of the issues that marred Mr Martinelli's presidency. “Mr Varela has promised to clamp down on corruption in the public sector, and will probably take steps to make the tendering process for investment projects more transparent,” said Mr Henderson.
According to greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets, Panama attracted more than $2bn and 184 projects from 34 countries during Mr Martinelli's term in office, which started in July 2009. The most popular sectors for foreign investments between 2009 and 2013 were software and IT, financial services, textiles, and communications, with mobile operators MoviStar and Digicel among the top investors in the country in that period.