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Tapping Panama's infrastructure boom

The companies

Canadian construction, engineering, architectural and building material firms specializing in infrastructure development and supply.

The challenge

Navigating opportunities in Panama’s booming infrastructure sector can be difficult in both the private and public sector. But with over $17 billion in new investments between 2010 and 2015, it could be worth the effort.

The opportunities

Even a partial list of the projects underscores the ambition of Panama’s infrastructure plans. Already underway are five new hospitals, the new Panama Bay sewage system and the Tocumen and Enrique Malek airport expansions. Projects with recently awarded tenders include the Panama City Metro System, ten new primary health centres, major repairs to the Bridge of the Americas, and road improvements. On top of that is the vast Panama Canal expansion project, slated for completion in 2014.

And that’s just the public sector. On the private side, there’s the massive Panama Pacifico business/residential project, the billion-dollar Santa Maria Golf & Country Club and the Ocean Reef Islands luxury residential development—plus enormous investments in hotels, office buildings, commercial malls and warehousing.

“This scale of development presents many opportunities for Canadian infrastructure companies,” says Luis Cedeno, Trade Commissioner in Panama. “For projects that have recently been awarded, the prime contractors may be looking for subcontractors to provide materials and components, or services such as engineering support. Other projects are still in the planning or tendering stages and this gives Canadian companies a chance to bid on the contracts, either by themselves or in partnership with other firms.”

But how can Canadian companies find out how to access these opportunities? “For the public sector,” says Cedeno, “they can go to the website of the government’s PanamaCompra (in Spanish only) program, which publishes all government tenders online. For Canal contracts, they should visit the Expansion Program section of the Panama Canal website. In addition, you should always check with Trade Commissioners in Panama, since we keep a close eye on these projects and their details.”

For private-sector tenders, there is no central information source. This means you’ll have to build a network to find out about them, and one vital contact is the TCS team in Panama. “We stay in touch with construction companies in Panama and know about their projects,” says Cedeno. “This means we can provide valuable information about upcoming tenders. This is very important, since you should be aware of a project as early as possible if you want to participate in it.”

For the inexperienced, the bidding process for public projects can be difficult to navigate, so Cedeno strongly advises the use of a local service provider specializing in government procurement. These consulting and legal firms can help you avoid making mistakes, such as an error in a document that may disqualify your bid.

Working with a local partner, such as a Panamanian engineering or architectural firm, is also a very good idea. “This is often the most effective way of entering the infrastructure market,” says Cedeno. “Your Panamanian collaborator will know how to deal with the bidding process and can help you navigate the local business culture. Of course, the partner doesn’t necessarily have to be Panamanian—there are many large foreign companies that have operated here for a long time, and their knowledge of the country can make them very effective partners.”

There are many challenges to operating in Panama, from the language barrier to the complexities of public procurement. But there are solutions for all of them, says Cedeno, who offers several tips for success. You can:

“Working with us will save you time and money,” says Cedeno. “Let us know you’re interested in a project so we can obtain tender requirements and give you preliminary advice on how to proceed. Then we can guide you to service providers that can help you bid, or to local companies that you might partner with in the bidding process.”

For more information, visit the website of the Trade Commissioner Service in Panama.

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