[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, September 17, 2006

[Twin Hubs at Opposite Ends of the Globe]
1. Remember the palindrome: a man, a plan, Panama? (It reads the same backwards.) Well, there's a new plan to widen the canal so that it can take larger ships. The bill is huge at US$5b. On October 22, there will be a referendum to settle this. If the vote is 'yes', which is likely, the project will take many years to complete, around 2014, a hundred years after the canal first opened.

2. When the Panama Canal was built, it was an engineering feat. The French tried it earlier but failed. De Lesseps, after cutting the Suez Canal in 1869, thought that cutting the Panama was a piece of cake. It wasn't. Over 20,000 workers died from malaria and yellow fever. Because of the financial losses, the French government of the day collapsed. The present canal was built by the US Government for strategic reasons at the beginning of the twentieth century so that warships could move from one ocean to the other. It was only in 1999 that the canal zone was returned to the Republic of Panama. Till today, the biggest user is the US. The second biggest user is China.

3. Panama and Singapore share important similarities. Both are situated between two oceans, critical points along global shipping routes. Like Singapore, the Panamanian government wants to develop it into an intermodal transportation and logistics hub. Earlier this year, the FTA between Panama and Singapore was signed. It is now operational.

4. Our FTA with Panama came about by chance. During the Cancun WTO talks in September 2003, the Panamanian Trade Minister asked to meet me. Earlier, US Trade Rep Bob Zoellick suggested that he consult Singapore about Panama's proposed FTA with the US. We had concluded our FTA with the US a few months before and Zoellick thought that the Singapore experience would be useful to Panama. I agreed to help. As we chatted over breakfast, I proposed an FTA between us. Being so far apart, we could not possibly be competitors. An FTA would help us strengthen each other's hub position. My counterpart agreed immediately which was how the process began.

5. After meeting a number of ministers and officials today, it is clear that the Panamanian Govt is holding up Singapore as a model for its own development. We already have a few companies operating here. The new baggage handling system in the airport is being built by InterRoller. The upgraded software system of the Canal was provided by Crimson Logic. ST Aerospace is taking over some hangars at the old US Airbase to build a facility for the maintenance of aeroplanes. PSA is interested in port operations; SembCorp in power generation.

6. Panama has a sizeable Chinese community. The first wave came as coolies building the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas. Over the years, a significant Taiwanese community has grown. Panama still recognises Taiwan instead of Mainland China. But Mainland China's presence is growing. The local Chinese community gave me dinner this evening. Many turned up to honour us. Everyone wanted to take pictures. I believe the Chinese connection will help our SMEs enter the Panamanian market. It is not a big market but for those interested in exploring Latin America, this is a soft point of entry.


Blogger AA said...

Sir, I think you left out a word:

"A man, a plan, a canal – Panama"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 10:47:00 pm

Blogger George Yeo 杨荣文 said...

You're right. I missed out 'a canal'. Thanks for pointing it out.

Saturday, September 23, 2006 2:05:00 pm


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