Panama has three successful SEZs, all of which have benefitted from and contributed to the country’s status as an international shipping hub and one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies. The country’s oldest SEZ is Colón Free Trade Zone. Located adjacent to the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, it is the largest free port in the Americas and the second-largest in the world after Hong Kong. It acts largely as a transshipment hub, importing USD 21 billion worth of goods from Asia and re-exporting them throughout the Americas.
Since the United States withdrew from the Panama Canal Zone in 1999, former US military installations have been converted into new SEZs. Fort Clayton, for example, was converted into the Ciudad del Saber, and it now hosts a number of academic institutions, technology companies, and NGOs.
Panama’s most ambitious SEZ, Panamá Pacífico Special Economic Area, was established after private developers bought what was once Howard Air Force Base, located across the canal from Panama City. Locus Economica founder Jean-Paul Gauthier was closely involved with this project, working on behalf of the World Bank to help Panama draft the laws and regulations that created the regulatory authority for Panamá Pacífico. The developer has now invested over USD 1 billion in the zone, attracting 225 companies and creating thousands of jobs.