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Panama curbs foreign participation in maritime services

Panama curbs foreign participation in maritime services
Panama’s National Assembly has approved new legislation, Law 41, which restricts foreign-owned vessels in the maritime auxiliary services sector, a measure that has annoyed European countries and may violate several free-trade agreements (FTAs) that Panama has signed with other countries.

While the Panama Canal expansion serves to attract foreign companies wishing to set up regional headquarters in the country, some firms, which have made the move, now face obstacles. The maritime sector is comprised of around 200 companies operating the Canal, terminals and ancillary businesses and represents 24% of Panama's GDP and has other spillover benefits for the rest of economy.

The new law has been enacted despite the fact that Panama's maritime sector is being promoted internationally as one that is open to both foreign and local investment. Its implementation will raise questions about Panama's international promotion strategy two years before the completion of the Panama Canal expansion. It could impair Panama's aspirations to become a logistics hub for Latin America and curtail foreign investment in a sector that is seen as the backbone of the country's future economic development.

Law 41 was published in the Official Gazette on June 15th, a day after its approval. It has been rejected by the maritime business community because of its restrictions on the participation of foreign companies. The maritime auxiliary services that Law 41 regulates include all fuel bunkering barges, launches taking people to and from ships, and ship chandler vessels that operate in Panamanian waters. Spanish and Dutch companies have invested in bunkering facilities in the sector. The Panama Chamber of Shipping has voiced its opposition to the restrictions.

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