Korea, Panama agree to conclude FTA 2015

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a state visit to Panama and met with his counterpart Ricardo Martinelli on Monday (Jun. 28 local time) and held a summit meeting. The two sides agreed to deepen bilateral ties in trade and economy and produced a 13-point joint declaration.

Lee called for Panama’s cooperation on Korean firms’ participation in the development of mineral resources in the country and construction projects, which Martinelli agreed to review in positive light. Korean firms are currently interested in two major projects in Panama; the “Cobre Panama” copper mine project and the additional construction for the “Miraflores” diesel power plant.

The two presidents agreed to conclude a free trade agreement and decided to seek the participation of other countries in Central America. Both also agreed on their governments’ need to clinch a Double Taxation Agreement to further extend bilateral trade and investment and decided to make it happen it soon. Korea promised to intensify its information-sharing program with Panama through a trainee invitation program and others to share the experience of rapid development.

President Lee also requested Panama to extend the period Korean businesspeople can stay in Panama from the current three months to one year. President Martinelli accepted the request and in return, proposed setting up a joint program on Korea’s e-government, through which Panama can learn and share information with Korea. President Lee agreed to look further into the details.

President Lee also expressed an interest in Panama’s bid to become a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). APEC has so far placed a moratorium on receiving new members.

President Martinelli strongly condemned North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan naval ship, expressed condolences to the families of the 46 fallen sailors and praised South Korea’s highly restrained and prudent response toward the matter. President Lee expressed his thanks and explained South Korea’s own efforts to resolve the North’s nuclear matter through the Six Party Talks and underlined the need to abide by UN resolutions. Martinelli showed his full support to this.

President Lee is the first Korean president to make a state visit to Panama since the two countries established ties in 1962. President Martinelli agreed to reciprocate by visiting Seoul in October.

President Lee is headed for a Korea-Central American Integration System (SICA) summit meeting on Tuesday (local time) to meet with the presidents of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and others.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kim Eun-hye later said that the two leaders, who are both former CEOs, held a very practical one-on-one dialogue that went on for an hour before the expanded meeting that went on for another half an hour.