|Time Zone :||GMT-5|
Fixed public holidays
Movable public holidays
|Int. Dial Code :||+507|
|Currency :||Balboa (Ba) in 100 centesimos|
|Capital :||Panama City|
|Capital Airport :||Panama City (PAC)|
Explored and settled by the Spanish in the 16th century, Panama broke with Spain in 1821 and joined a union of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador - named the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the latter dissolved in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. With US backing, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903 and promptly signed a treaty with the US allowing for the construction of a canal and US sovereignty over a strip of land on either side of the structure (the Panama Canal Zone). The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, an agreement was signed for the complete transfer of the Canal from the US to Panama by the end of the century. Certain portions of the Zone and increasing responsibility over the Canal were turned over in the subsequent decades. With US help, dictator Manuel NORIEGA was deposed in 1989. The entire Panama Canal, the area supporting the Canal, and remaining US military bases were transferred to Panama by the end of 1999. In October 2006, Panamanians approved an ambitious plan to expand the Canal. The project, which is to begin in 2007 and could double the Canal's capacity, is expected to be completed in 2014-15.
Economy - overview:
Panama's dollarized economy rests primarily on a well-developed services sector that accounts for three-fourths of GDP. Services include operating the Panama Canal, banking, the Colon Free Zone, insurance, container ports, flagship registry, and tourism. A slump in the Colon Free Zone and agricultural exports, the global slowdown, and the withdrawal of US military forces held back economic growth in 2000-03; growth picked up in 2004-06 led by export-oriented services and a construction boom stimulated by tax incentives. The government has implemented tax reforms, as well as social security reforms, and backs regional trade agreements and development of tourism. Unemployment remains high. In October 2006, voters passed a referendum to expand the Panama Canal to accommodate ships that are now too large to transverse the transoceanic crossway. Not a CAFTA signatory, Panama in December 2006 independently negotiated a free trade agreement with the US, which, when implemented, will help promote the country's economic growth.