BYLINE: PETER T. LEACH
Panama's hub ambitions signal wealth of opportunity
One country, two oceans and a wealth of opportunity. That's how Panama sees itself as the country positions itself as the commercial and financial hub of the Americas -- a veritable Singapore of the West.
How is it doing so? By setting the stage to become the entrepot through which most cargo is transshipped, where hemispheric finance flows and international companies direct most of their business throughout South and Central America.
Progress toward that goal is gaining momentum as more foreign companies invest in Panama, and it will likely receive a further boost by 2014 when the Panama Canal opens a third set of locks to container ships that can carry nearly three times as many boxes as those that can transit existing locks.
At the same time, the private terminal operators running the container ports on both coasts are expanding their terminals and planning two new ports on the Pacific Coast, where the existing terminal at Balboa is at capacity, especially on weekends.
"The reason we are turning Panama into a Singapore or a Hong Kong for the hemisphere is mainly the canal's expansion," said Federico Humbert Arias, Panama's ambassador to the United States. "From Day One, we are going to exploit our geographic position. That's the basis on which everything else is happening."
Panama is not pinning its plans for …