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In conjunction with our blog series on central banking policy throughout the world, today we turn our attention to Central America and the unique fiscal and monetary landscape that is often an afterthought when examining the world economy. For the purposes of this blog, when referencing Central America, we are incorporating Mexico and all other continental countries of North America that are south of the United States of America. While Europe, Japan, and the US are locked into low interest rate environments, Central America offers a unique landscape for central banking.

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Celebrations and support from the people of Panama erupted on Sunday, when the expanded Panama Canal was opened on June 26th, 2016. Panama Canal is mainly used by the United States and China for trade and transportation. The new canal is said to allow for the passing of 98 percent of the ships in the ocean and will account for 80 percent of the current “world liquefied natural gas tanker fleet, compared with the 7 percent that could pass through old facilities.” With the $5 billion ten year expansion project, Panama hopes to generate three times the amount of revenue from canal shipping fees, and wants to make transportation more efficient with its new locks. However, these goals may still take some time to reach due to the drop in shipping prices and the unexpected problems that have arisen with the expanded canal.

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The expansion of the Panama Canal has overcome labor disputes, legal battles, and even technical issues, but the project is almost complete. When projects such as these occur on such a massive scale, big delays and budget overruns are inevitable, but usually the financial backers can always find the money to complete the projects.  However, this may not be the case for the Nicaragua Canal. This canal is being built in order to allow large Post-Panamax ships to travel as the Panama Canal’s current locks are not big enough. Nicaraguan officials also believe that the investment will boost the economy and living standards. The canal would be one of the largest infrastructure projects in human history, but many are skeptical as no evidence of actual construction has been found since August 2015, despite the Nicaraguan government insisting that ground was being broken.

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Since 2007, a construction project has been underway for a third set of locks for the Panama Canal. Undertaken by the GUPC, the completion of locks was delayed for years due to construction problems and contractual issues. However, it looks as though the project is nearing fulfillment. Earlier this month, the consortium behind the expansion announced they were ready to enter the trial phase for the expanded waterway. In a series of over 2,000 investigations, the GUPC plans to test the control systems and electric power that operate the new locks in the Pacific and Caribbean sections of the canal. After this phase, the plan is to run a set of navigation tests during the month of May. If all tests are successful, an expanded Panama Canal could become a reality in the second half of the year.

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In what would be a great engineering feat, plans for a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in Nicaragua have been finalized. The idea of a Nicaraguan canal goes back to the 19th century, when officials in the United States looked into the feasibility of a canal project. Nicaragua ended up being passed over when Panama was chosen as the site for a trans-oceanic canal by Congress in 1902. After the Panama Canal’s construction, talks of a Nicaraguan canal died down until the early 21st century. With increasing world trade and the need for quick shipping, the idea of a second canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was proposed by the Nicaraguan government.

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In 2006, the people of Panama overwhelmingly approved a national referendum to expand and enlarge the Panama Canal. This $5.25 Billion project, currently 6 months behind schedule, is due to be finished around June 2015. The project will double the capacity of the canal by adding 4 new locks, which will be able to handle much larger ships, known as New Panamax. The question becomes how the expansion will impact global trade and shipping routes.

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In the modern business world, domestic markets are simply not enough for businesses striving to reach new customers and serve a growing world. Emerging markets and regions across the globe have provided businesses, small and large, the opportunity to expand their operations beyond domestic markets. Latin America happens to be one of these emerging regions and its growth prospects have caught the attention of businesses worldwide. This week the globalEDGE blog team will give you an in-depth outlook on Latin America and how the region is affecting international business.

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All around the world technology remains a key component of business success and innovation. Places like India, China, and the United States are well known for their innovation and technological development. However, Latin America happens to be one of the fastest-growing technology markets in the world. With Brazil being one of the largest economies in Latin America, many people may assume Brazil is leading the way in technology. Yet, this is not the case. This past year Panama replaced Uruguay as Latin America’s technology leader.

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This past year the United States passed free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Both these countries represent key markets in Central and South America. In fact, Colombia is the third largest economy in South America while Panama is a major maritime and air transportation hub. There are many potential opportunities for international businesses in these countries. To find out more information on the business climate, market opportunities, and finance in both Colombia and Panama, there will be a webinar hosted in February by the U.S. Commercial Service. The webinar requires a paid registration and also provides details about the benefits of the United States free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

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This past week, the United States passed a trio of free trade agreements removing trade barriers with the countries of Panama, South Korea, and Colombia. The free trade agreements will have many impacts on international trade tendencies between these countries as the pacts will essentially eliminate tariffs faced by exporters in all four countries. Exports of each country are expected to rise as a result of the agreements and many businesses small or large will be able to compete in new markets abroad. The trade relationships between each country will dramatically change as the new trade agreements mark the biggest opportunity for exporting businesses in decades.