By Duncan McGowan
Representatives of two of China’s biggest banks have been in Panama looking for expansion opportunities, the new Chinese ambassador to Panama told reporters this week.
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Bank of China Limited are looking to establish operations using Chinese currency, expand banking operations and establish financing for infrastructure, ambassador Wei Qiang told reporters at a press conference.
The Bank of China Limited already has operations in Panama, but the addition of an expanded ICBC would be big news. ICBC is considered the largest bank in the world by total assets and the most valuable bank in the world by market capitalization.
The growth of the Chinese banking sector will bring a wealth of new capital into the market, as well as financial institutions willing and able to support massive infrastructure projects.
Wei was asked about a discussed rail link to David and western Panama but said there was no new information to report.
“The Chinese are very pragmatic,” he said. “If now we have the task, now we will focus on the Panama-Chiriqui railroad, which is currently in the first stage of the feasibility study.”
China was participating in talks with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. The ambassador made it clear that Panama will play a key role in China’s relationship with the region.
“Panama can play a key role,” not only in terms of bilateral deals but also to “radiate cooperation with the region,” the ambassador told reporters.
Panama and China have been moving rapidly to launch new initiatives in trade and travel since formally launching diplomatic relations last June. Last week, the government announced that preliminary talks have begun to negotiate a new free trade agreement.
Duncan McGowan is president of Punta Pacifica Realty, a Panama real estate agency focused on Punta Pacifica, the exclusive neighborhood of 18 towers perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.