In the run-up to the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2014, President Ricardo Martinelli outlines Panama’s progress and invites you to participate in the discussions that will help to shape its future

It has been a privileged experience to lead this country and help chart its path of economic and social transformation over the course of the past five years. Based on a clear vision of the imperative of development and through an aggressive $20 billion investment plan focused on the areas where the country has its greatest potential, Panama has become the country with the highest economic growth in the region and presently rivals that of any other country in the world. Despite a troubled international economic environment, the rate of growth of its GDP has reached double digits for 2011 and 2012.

We can also now proudly say that Panama’s economy has become the second most competitive in Latin America, after that of Chile.  We have, from the beginning, clearly appreciated that this progress must be based upon a joint effort between the local public and private sectors – securely grounded in free-market principles combined with a strong sense of social responsibility.

In addition, Panama has come to stand out as one of the best places to establish business operations for multinational companies. Foreign direct investment has tripled – to $4.6 billion since 2009 – and the investment grade rating of its bonds has been maintained. As a result, Panama has achieved truly global commercial projection and is now one of the most outstanding centres of banking and other financial services in the world. And the number of tourists visiting our beautiful country is now more than 2.2 million annually.

What gives this impressive growth real meaning, however, is that it has come hand in hand with social progress. The past five years of strong economic performance has reduced the unemployment rate from 6.6% to 4.1%, inflation has been controlled, and the number of people afflicted by poverty has steadily fallen. Robust infrastructure investments in healthcare, public transportation and education have resulted in billions of dollars for new hospitals, a vastly improved and expanded transportation system, schools and other social services. Central America’s first subway system will be inaugurated in Panama City next month. Also, we are expecting that once its expansion is completed, Panama and Tocumen International Airport, which we call the “Hub of the Americas”, will become Latin America´s foremost point of connectivity.

For me, it is an honour to host the 2014 World Economic Forum on Latin America in Panama City. The Forum is a particularly prestigious organization that brings together the most important figures from government, the business community, academia and other key elements of civil society.

Panama has a wonderful story of accomplishment to tell. But even more importantly, the country now possesses the energy, dynamism and confidence to continue its trajectory in the coming years and decades – thereby contributing significantly to a hopeful regional future. The forthcoming event presents a unique opportunity for Latin America to double its efforts to achieve the bright future its peoples deserve. And we are confident that its deliberations will greatly contribute to that common objective.

Under the theme of Opening Pathways for Shared Progress, we invite you to accompany us in offering perspectives on, and thoroughly discussing, the opportunities and challenges outlined in the agenda: Driving Economic Dynamism, Innovation for Social Inclusion, and the Modernizing of Infrastructure. We Panamanians will make certain that our greatest infrastructure project – the Panama Canal and its ongoing expansion – figures prominently within that agenda, especially since this year we celebrate its 100th anniversary.

I deeply believe in the unique beauty, opportunities and potential of Panama – and Latin America as a whole.  And I am most pleased to invite you all to become active participants in deliberations that will, hopefully, serve to guide the next stage of our region’s development.

Author: Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama. He is participating in the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2014 in Panama City.