Panama City is a serious contender for Atlanta in its bid for the Free Trade Area of the Americas Secretariat because of Panama’s logistics capabilities and pending bilateral free trade agreement with the United States, according to the U.S. ambassador to Panama, Linda Watt.

Ms. Watt, an Atlanta native who has been ambassador to Panama since December 2002, spoke at the World Trade Center Atlanta last week.

“Panama’s bid [for the FTAA Secretariat] is very serious. It has the best offer from outside of the U.S. because of its low costs, central location and flight routes all over the hemisphere,” Ms. Watt told GlobalAtlanta.

She added that Panama is offering free housing and diplomatic status to Secretariat staff and that some Latin Americans say it is easier for them to travel to Panama than to the U.S.

A bilateral free trade agreement between Panama and the U.S. would strengthen Panama City’s bid for the FTAA, Ms. Watt said, because such a treaty would create a better investment climate in Panama for U.S. firms.

Negotiations of the bilateral treaty, which are scheduled to begin on April 26, will likely result in a framework for trade that would protect intellectual property and facilitate resolutions for disputes, she noted.

Ms. Watts also said she hopes the bilateral negotiations will provide incentives and the “creative impulse” for Panamanian businesspersons to seek more innovative exports, especially in nontraditional agricultural products.

She believes the FTAA, in turn, will serve to increase Panamanian exports in general, therefore boosting the economy and creating consumers for American products and services.

A $6-8 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, to be announced in June, is also expected to better position Panama to compete in the global marketplace, Ms. Watt said. The 10-year expansion project will allow 40 percent more ships to traverse the canal. Some 30 ships currently pass through the canal daily.

Ms. Watt is a graduate of North Fulton High School in Buckhead (now the Atlanta International School), where she sang in a choir that toured worldwide. This experience, along with her father’s travels to Latin America with the U.S. Army, sparked her interest in Latin America.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Spanish and history and receiving her Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from the University of New Mexico, Ms. Watt entered the U.S. Foreign Service. She has served in Nicaragua, Britain, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Russia, in that order.

Ms. Watt will return to Atlanta June 14-15 for the U.S.-Panama Business Council’s Panama Day that will include seminars on commercial and cultural ties between the two countries. Look for more details in upcoming editions of GlobalAtlanta.

Visit for more information about the U.S. Embassy in Panama.