London - Panama and China opened free trade talks on Monday with the aim of crafting an agreement that could turn the Central American country into a hub for Chinese goods across Latin America. Panama’s Minister for Trade and Industry Augusto Arosemena said the first round of talks would last until Friday, July 13, and establish the basis for the rest of the negotiation. Traditionally close to Washington because the U.S. had controlled its famous shipping canal for decades, Panama has set its sights on attracting more inward investment from China. More Chinese investment, Arosemena told reporters, would enable Panama “to position ourselves as the port of entry of these products and investment for the whole region.” China’s ambassador to Panama, Wei Qiang, said Panama could become a hub for Chinese firms, notably in manufacturing. Panama’s chief negotiator, Alberto Aleman, said the trade agreement aimed to include some 20 chapters in total.
The trade talks follow Panama’s establishment of diplomatic ties with China in 2017. Since then, the isthmian nation and the world’s second-largest economy have signed around 20 agreements and established direct flights between them. A second round of trade talks is expected to take place in August, though no precise date has been set yet.