UPDATE 2-Panama economic growth eases in October - government

Fri Dec 27, 2013 12:35pm EST

PANAMA CITY Dec 27 (Reuters) - The growth of Panama's vibrant economy eased slightly in October, weakened by slower traffic through the Central American nation's trademark canal and ports, official data showed on Friday.

Economic activity increased 8.26 percent in October compared with the same month last year, figures from the government's statistics office showed. That was a slowdown from September, when the economy expanded by 9.29 percent. Growth that month had originally been reported at 8.15 percent.

In a statement, the office said container traffic and activity in the Panama canal had decreased while the construction, mining, tourism and air transport industries continued to grow.

The office did not quantify the developments.

The finance ministry projects Panama's $33 billion economy will expand 8.5 percent this year.

Though the economy is stepping back from the double digit growth Panama has posted in four of the past six years, it is still one of the fastest-growing in the region.

The growth is spurred by massive infrastructure spending, including the ongoing $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama canal, which began in 2007, and the $1.8 billion construction of Central America's first metro rail system.

Minera Panama, a subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd is also building a $6.2 billion copper mine on the Atlantic coast, expected to become one of the world's biggest open-pit copper developments.

But traffic through the canal and ports has slumped, weighed down by the global slowdown in trade.

A six-month delay in the opening of the expanded canal has persuaded shippers to use alternative routes where they can carry goods more cheaply on bigger ships.

The economy has also been dampened by a dispute with two of Panama's biggest trading partners, Colombia and Venezuela, which has disrupted the Colon Free Trade Zone, the world's largest duty-free area after Hong Kong.

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