Oct 17th, 2010

PANAMA President Ricardo Martinelli became the first Panamanian leader to make a state visit to Singapore when he arrived here on Sunday for a three-day visit.

He called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana yesterday, and was hosted to a state banquet by President S R Nathan last night.

Panama, a Spanish-speaking country in Central America, is a maritime and air hub and a centre for banking, financial services, tourism and health care.

It is Singapore's largest trading partner in Latin America. Bilateral trade reportedly totalled US$6.6 billion (S$8.6 billion) last year.

The two countries signed a free trade agreement in March 2006.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that Mr Martinelli and Mr Lee agreed to encourage businessmen from both countries to get to know one another to facilitate even greater economic cooperation.

To that effect, the two countries yesterday signed the Singapore-Panama Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement.

An air services agreement is also on the way.

Mr Martinelli briefed Mr Lee on his government's plans to expand the Panama Canal, as well as economic opportunities in his country.

Before meeting PM Lee, the Panama leader called on President Nathan, and expressed his keen interest in learning about Singapore's education system.

Mr Martinelli and his delegation of officials and businessmen had lunch with Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang and prominent Singaporean businessmen.

He then visited the Institute of Technical Education College West and the SMRT headquarters.

Speaking at a banquet in Mr Martinelli's honour last night, President Nathan said Singapore and Panama are similar in that both are small countries that are major maritime and trading nations.

'We have also moved beyond being physical ports of call to situate ourselves as the crossroads and marketplace of our respective regions,' he said.

Mr Martinelli leaves Singapore today.