Singapore (left) and Panama City (right) / William Cho and Jim Nix / Flickr / Creative Commons
As a transportation hub, logistics center, and regional financial player, Panama has long been painted by investment bankers and Panamanian politicians as a potential “Singapore of Latin America,” but that vision still seems a way off. In some respects, Panama’s story has been quite impressive. For a decade, it has boasted GDP growth far beyond the regional average, even surpassing 10 percent in some recent years. Unlike many of its neighbors, its dollar-based economy relies on services, not exports of commodities or low-value-added light manufacturing. Since the 1989-1990 U.S. invasion to unseat General Manuel Noriega, the total size of the Panamanian economy has quadrupled in constant dollars. It is also different from Singapore in important ways. Singapore’s approach to planning and public housing might be helpful in Panama City, which has suffered traffic, environmental degradation, and inadequate housing for the poor as a consequence of poorly planned growth.
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