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Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 11:29 UK

Panama 'to push on US trade deal'

View of the Panama Canal on 2 May 2009
Mr Martinelli will oversee a crucial expansion of the Panama Canal

Panama's president-elect Ricardo Martinelli has said finalising a free trade deal with the US is a priority.

Mr Martinelli, a supermarket tycoon, beat the governing centre-left party's candidate by more than 20 points in Sunday's presidential election.

The trade deal was signed in 2007 but has been held up in the US Congress amid concerns that the Central American nation is an off-shore tax haven.

A member of Mr Martinelli's team said such worries were unfounded.

"The perception that Panama is a tax haven is totally false," Frank De Lima, Mr Martinelli's top economic adviser, told Reuters.

Members of Congress have also cited concerns over labour rights in Panama.

RICARDO MARTINELLI
Born 11 March 1952
Business degree from University of Arkansas
Owns Super 99 - Panama's biggest supermarket chain
Other businesses include: banking, agricultural, media
1994 - 1996: Head of Social Security
1999 - 2003: Chairman of Panama Canal Authority board, Minister for Canal Affairs

Mr Lima said that Panama respected workers' rights and collective bargaining.

The Obama administration said in March that it would work to win Congressional approval of the deal with Panama.

The US is Panama's biggest trading partner and bilateral trade in 2008 was around $5.5bn (£3.6bn).

Mr Martinelli, the candidate of a centre-right alliance led by his Democratic Change (CD) party, is due to take office on 1 July.

Correspondents say a clear challenge for him will be overseeing the $5bn (£3.3bn) expansion of the Panama Canal.

Panama has enjoyed buoyant economic growth in recent years, averaging some 8.5%, but this is forecast to slow considerably this year as the global downturn affects the crucial trade link of the Panama Canal.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Panama receives a little under one-third of its tax revenues from the canal, but through traffic has been declining significantly.

The expansion programme, scheduled to be competed in 2014, aims to increase the canal's capacity, making it big enough for supertankers and the largest container ships.

Presidents in Panama are elected for a single, five-year term.



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SEE ALSO
Tycoon elected Panama president
04 May 09 |  Americas
Sun and secrecy lure of Panama
06 Dec 07 |  UK
Q&A: Panama Canal expansion
23 Oct 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
25 Feb 09 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Global Insight Election 2009: Rightist Opposition Claims Victory in Panamanian Presidential Contest - 38 hrs ago
Time Panama's New President: A Boost for Business - 38 hrs ago
Concord Monitor Panama > Supermarket magnate wins election - 41 hrs ago
Conde Nast Portfolio Panama's president-elect to push U.S. trade deal - 48 hrs ago



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