A Central American country stretching from Costa Rica to the west across to its southeastern border with South America’s Colombia, the Republic of Panama shipped US$11.2 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016.
That dollar amount represents a -24% decline since 2013 when Panamanian exports equal to $14.7 billion. Year over year, Panamanian exports fell in value by -1.3% from 2015 to 2016.
Based on estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Panama’s exported goods plus services represent 49.4% of total Panamanian economic output or Gross Domestic Product. Please note that the overall value of exported goods and services includes a sizable share of re-exports, thanks in no small part to the strategic location of the Panama Canal. The analysis below focuses on exported products only.
From a continental perspective, about three-quarters (64.4%) of Panamanian exports by value were delivered to Latin American countries excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean. Another 23.7% were sold to North American importers, trailed by 4.1% for European buyers and 3.2% for customers in Asia.
Given Panama’s population of 3.8 million people, its total $11.2 billion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $3,000 for every resident in the Central American nation.
Panama’s unemployment rate was projected to be 6.3% as of June 2018, per Trading Economics.
Panama’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Panamanian global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Panama.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, therapeutic or prophylactic drugs and medicines is Panama’s most valuable exported product followed by sulphonamides, amino-compounds, smartphones then footwear.
- Organic chemicals: US$1.8 billion (16.1% of total exports)
- Pharmaceuticals: $1.6 billion (14.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $1.1 billion (9.8%)
- Footwear: $864.9 million (7.7%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $803.1 million (7.2%)
- Machinery including computers: $751.9 million (6.7%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $553.9 million (4.9%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $451.4 million (4%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $359.5 million (3.2%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $229.5 million (2.1%)
Panama’s top 10 exports accounted for almost three-quarters (73.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Electrical machinery and equipment represents the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 9.7% over from 2015 to 2016.
The only other category that exhibited improved export sales was beverages, spirits and vinegar, up by 2.5% led by liquor and wine.
Leading the decliners were Panamanian exports of perfumes and cosmetics (down -15.1%) then organic chemicals (down -11.5%).
Overall, Panama posted a $2 billion product trade surplus during 2016.
The following types of Panamanian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$286.4 million (Down by -50.7% since 2015)
- Machinery including computers: $139.7 million (Up by 201%)
- Fish: $138.2 million (Reversing an -$8,000 deficit)
- Footwear: $135.8 million (Up by 104.8%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $130.9 million (Down by -34.8%)
- Fruits, nuts: $125.4 million (Reversing a -$117,000 deficit)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $124.8 million (Up by 161%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $97.6 million (Reversing a -$21.2 million deficit)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: $71 million (Up by 1.9%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $59 million (Reversing a -$128.4 million deficit)
Panama has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceutical drugs and medicines. In turn, these cashflows indicate Panama’s strong competitive advantages under the pharmaceuticals product category.
Below are exports from Panama that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Panama’s goods trail Panamanian importer spending on foreign products.
- Gems, precious metals: -$7.8 million (Down by -51.1% from 2016)
- Organic chemicals: -$4 million (Down by -55.8%)
- Musical instruments: -$3.7 million (Reversing a $5.5 million surplus)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$2.2 million (Down by -71.7%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: -$1.6 million (Down by -48.6%)
- Ships, boats: -$773,000 (Up by 101.3%)
- Modified starches, glues, enzymes: -$604,000 (Down by -67.5%)
- Explosives, pyrotechnics, matches: -$602,000 (Up by 94.8%)
- Coated/laminated textile fabric: -$586,000 (Reversing a $399,000 surplus)
- Cereals: -$478,000 (Up by 1,126%)
Panama has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the gems and precious metals category particularly for jewelry and precious stones.
Panamanian Export Companies
Not one Panamanian corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia identifies some international trade-related entities conducting business in Panama. Selected examples are shown below:
- Bering Motors (automobiles)
- DHL Aero Expreso (cargo airliner)
A considerable number of Panamanian exporters list their products on the global sales portal Alibaba.com. The following are selected examples; each firm’s principal products are shown within parentheses.
- CIBO SA (sugar)
- Gainway Metal Recycling Corp (scrap metal)
- Grupo Prado E Hijos (cargo ships)
- Interbahn Global Ltd (teak logs)
- Kwinana Tech International (computers, accessories)
- Live Well Pharmaceuticals (drugs, medicines)
- PILSA (rum)
- Salva-Mar SA (fresh fish)
Panama’s capital is Panama City.
Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.
See also Costa Rica’s Top 10 Exports, Guatemala’s Top Trading Partners and Honduras Top 10 Imports
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 23, 2018
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 23, 2018
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 23, 2018
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 23, 2018
The World Factbook, Central America and Caribbean: Panama. Accessed on June 23, 2018
Wikimedia Commons, Flag of Panama. Accessed on June 23, 2018
Wikipedia, Panama. Accessed on June 23, 2018
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Panama. Accessed on June 23, 2018
World’s Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Panama City, Panama. Accessed on June 23, 2018