PANAMA CITY The presidents of Mexico and Panama signed a free trade deal on Thursday, moving the smaller nation a step closer to joining a regional pact that includes several major Latin American economies.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his counterpart Ricardo Martinelli concluded the accord in Panama City, one of the prerequisites for Panama joining the Pacific trade alliance, which comprises Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru.
"Signing this trade agreement brings us closer to our wish to be part of the Pacific Alliance," Martinelli said.
Panama and Costa Rica are among the Central American nations seeking to enter the Pacific Alliance, which covers more than 210 million people and puts an end to more than nine-tenths of tariffs on goods and services traded between its members.
A senior Mexican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Panama could join the alliance later this year.
According to figures from the Mexican Economy Ministry, total trade between Mexico and Panama was worth just over $1 billion in 2013, the vast bulk of it Mexican exports.
(Reporting by Elida Moreno, Dave Graham and Christine Murray; Editing by Diane Craft)