President Martinelli visited Seoul just a few months later. As a goodwill gesture, South Korea will donate a 34-foot replica of the Dabotap Pagoda, a national treasure, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the South Sea, which indirectly led to the founding of Panama City.
Much like Seoul, Panama has been sprinting toward a makeover that has transformed the face of the capital city and the country’s economy in less than a decade.
The economy continues to grow steadily after doubling from 2003 to 2009. Buoyed by booming transportation and logistics services sectors along with heavy infrastructure development, current Panamanian projects include extensive road works, a subway system and, of course, an expanded Panama Canal, which is expected to be delivered by mid-2015.
According to Aram Cisneros, the Panamanian ambassador in Seoul, the shipping industry is at the core of the relationship between the two countries. South Korea is variously cited as the fifth- or sixth-largest user of the Panama Canal and owns about 11 percent of the 9,000 Panamanian-flagged ships in the world.
Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano visited South Korea earlier this year to meet with potential investors in terminals along the expanded waterway, which will include a new set of locks to accommodate wider, longer and heavier ships.
Part of the renewed commitment between the two nations is a technology exchange that has led to an eGovernment portal and a $700,000 information and technology center for Panama. Located in the capital’s City of Knowledge and overseen by the Korean Information Society, the state-of-the-art facility is part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the South Korean Ministry of Public Administration and Security.
The Korean government sponsors a knowledge-sharing program, which promotes exchanges in areas such as education, agriculture, logistics, public services and the labor market as Panama seeks to mimic South Korea’s economic success and become more than just a path between two seas.
“In spite of the obvious historical and cultural differences, Panama has a lot to learn from Korea,” Cisneros said, noting that South Korean per capita GDP has risen from $85 per person 60 years ago to $30,000 today.