By Lomi Kriel
PANAMA CITY, Sept 13 Panama's economy grew by
7.6 percent in the second quarter, led by stronger activity in
transport and communications and brisk business in the
construction and mining sectors, the government statistics
agency said on Friday.
Growth picked up from the first quarter, when the economy
expanded by an upwardly revised 7.3 percent.
Still, the pace of growth has eased from 2012, when the
economy grew by 10.8 percent.
The global economic slowdown has dampened trade through
Panama's canal and ports, partly because of a delay in the
opening of an expansion to the country's waterway.
The expansion to the canal is not expected to be operational
until mid-2015. The delay has persuaded shippers such as Maersk
Line to use alternative routes from Asia such as
the Suez Canal, which can accommodate bigger ships.
Panama's economy has also been affected by a dispute with
two of its biggest trading partners, Colombia and Venezuela,
which has disrupted Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone, the world's
largest duty-free area after Hong Kong.
Venezuelan traders owe the free-trade zone about $1.2
billion because of difficulties exchanging the Venezuelan
bolivar for dollars. Colombia has imposed additional surcharges
on imported items such as clothes and shoes.
Canal activity declined by 2.9 percent in the quarter, the
statistics agency said.
Mining and construction both increased by more than 25
percent during the April-June period, while growth in the
transport and communications industry accelerated to nearly 9
percent from 5.6 percent in the previous quarter.
The mining boost was due largely to large-scale public and
private construction projects, including the canal expansion and
the development of a $6.2 billion copper mine on the Atlantic.
Expected to become one of the world's most important
open-pit copper developments and Panama's biggest exporter, its
first shipments are due in 2016, according to Minera Panama, a
subsidiary of Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd.
Panama's Economy Ministry expects overall growth of 8.5
percent in 2013, while the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin
America predicts growth of 7.5 percent.
Panama has managed to evade much of the global recession,
with its economy growing at double digits for four of the past
six years. Much of the growth is thanks to significant
infrastructure spending, including the building of the canal's
third lane, begun in 2007, and the $1.8 billion construction of
Central America's first metro.
Logistical and transportation services linked to the canal
have expanded over the past six years as Panama has tried to
pitch itself as a regional hub.
"Compared to global and regional growth, Panama has been
growing almost three times as much," Finance Minister Frank De
Lima told a recent conference call with investors.
"We see a soft landing expected in the near future, but
still higher than average growth in the next couple of years."