May 25, 2018 / 10:59 PM / 7 months ago

Talks over Panama-China free trade pact to start in July

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Negotiations over a free trade agreement between Panama and China will begin in July, Panama’s trade and industry minister said on Friday, just a year after the two nations established diplomatic relations.

The first round of talks will take place in Panama City, and negotiators are expected to name technical teams that will be charged with discussing details on market access, rules of origin and customs procedures, among others topics.

“I think this is very important because of the message it sends to Panama’s private sector,” Trade and Industry Minister Augusto Arosemena told reporters following consultations with various business leaders.

A specific date for the first round of talks has not yet been announced, but top trade officials from both nations are expected to meet in Beijing on June 12.

China has been expanding its influence across Latin America, and Panama is seeking to attract new investment and boost re-exports of Chinese goods throughout the region.

Arosemana noted that China is the world’s second biggest user of the Panama Canal and the biggest supplier to the Colon Free Trade Zone, a massive export hub near the Atlantic entrance to the century-old waterway.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Brown

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