ROADS TO ALLIANCE
Panama is opening up new spaces for the sale of its products overseas. Manuel Fernandez, general manager of Mister Agro, an agricultural marketing company, is one of the main advocates this project has. Since 1996, his company –bent on producing a number of agricultural exportable items- has managed to put its two top produces (melons and watermelons) on such markets as Europe and the U.S.
From his position as chairman of Panama’s Exporter Consortium, deputy president of the Panama Exporter Association (APEX) and executive of the National Organization of Farming Producers, Mr. Fernandez tells Excelencias magazine the commercial perspectives not only of the Central American nation, but also of the entire region from the standpoint of his brand-new regional integration project called the Multimodal Hub.
What’s the Multimodal Hub actually all about?
This project is articulated as a logistic platform to guarantee the transportation of products across the entire Central American and South American regions, especially those nations bathed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The idea is to cash in on Panama’s connectivity by sea and through mobile data transmission to put them at the fingertips of Latin American exporters.
It’s exactly about the creation of a network of IDER ships –feedersthat will ferry in the exporting containers to a Panamanian seaport. That merchandise will be loaded on larger freighters and that’ll guarantee a straight delivery of those goods in the European market, both on the north coast and down through the Mediterranean Sea, as well as to the east coast of the U.S.
What’s stage is the project in right now and what does the future hold for this initiative?
We’d been toying with this idea for the past couple of years because we’d noticed the bad conditions the cargo system was in and the hard times our exporters were going through to bring their freight ships home, to the end users. As a response to those difficulties, we came up with the idea of turning Panama into a cargo storage and transport location for the whole region. With that view in mind, we summoned all Central American exporter guilds and some from South America, too, like Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
The outcomes of the negotiations laid bare that the weakest links for all of us were transportation and logistics to take our products to the end markets. We decided then to form a group and a technical office headquartered in Panama as the launching pad or hub. With the support of all the parties, we produced what was later known as the Declaration of Panama, a document that lays out the functions of the project. We’ve traveled all around Central America strategically and we’ve touched base with all the guilds and governmental leaders of such nations as Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia.
The Compete Panama program we wrapped up last year –a joint program involving the VIP and the Panamanian government to stir up competitiveness among Panamanian companies- helped us put this project to the test, so the budget for the feasibility study was finally okayed. We rolled out an international contest for consulting companies and at the end of the day we picked the final proposal from Neathan Associates. The feasibility study also hinted that we were supposed to start thing out in the most immediate markets And we’ll do so by fostering not only the maritime routes, but the air routes as well because our country’s geographical location makes air cargo more efficient, allowing for the use of larger aircraft and bringing in air cargo companies from other nations in order to take those products from all around the region to the end users in those markets overseas.
In addition to the geographical location, there’s superb infrastructure that we inherited from the Americans, like the Howard air base, that can be turned into a base of operations for the entire region, coupled with the Balboa seaport, the Rotman seaport or the new mega port project in Farfan, which is next to it.
In your view, what kind of approach should this project cling to?
We must be creative. It’s about joining forces to bring costs down, to buy consumables, to sit down with any world-class transporter. We need a 21st or 22nd century mindset if we really want Panama to thrive as the region’s leading nation as far as transportation and logistics are concerned.