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President of Panama on the state of the global economy

Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli speaks during the V Americas Competitiveness Forum in Santo Domingo on Oct. 6, 2011.

Jeremy Hobson: Well we're going to go even further outside the Washington bubble now, to get a take on the global economy from someone with a front row seat. That would be the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal. Panama is of course home to the Panama canal, which allows more than 200 million tons of shipping traffic to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa each year.

I caught up with the President while he was promoting Panama in a hotel full of business leaders in London. He started off by telling me how much he loves the United States.

Ricardo Martinelli: Well when I think of the U.S., I think of a paradise. The best place on earth since I was a little kid that went to high school in Virginia. And my business experience was all done through American schools, and most of Panama's life revolves around the U.S.

Hobson: Are you worried about the state of the U.S. economy right now?

Martinelli: I am worried like everybody else. But I would be a little bit more worried about Europe and the euro crisis. I remembered my father telling me when President Roosevelt in 1941 raised the debt limit to $50 billion, and somebody asked President Roosevelt, 'How do you plan to pay for that?' He said, 'Well, just look around the wealth of this country. All the factories, all the best land on earth. The most hard-working people. We have enough resources to pay for it. You shouldn't worry about that debt limit.' I am still not worried about what's happening in the U.S. economy.

Hobson: You mentioned government spending. I want to ask you about a big project in your country -- you're widening the Panama Canal. Is a big infrastructure project like that difficult to justify to your citizens in a time of a weak global economy?

Martinelli: The Panama Canal is immune from the global economy because all the trade that comes through China goes through the eastern part of the U.S.A., has to go through there, and all the trade goes to the emerging economies in Latin America. Which those economies are doing very good. And they seem a little immune to what is going on in the rest of the world. We have a very diversified economy in which no sectors account more of 8 percent of the GDP and that's why we are growing at 10.3 percent; next year, we should grow around 12 percent.

Hobson: Let me ask you one last question, sir: When it comes to economics, is there anything that you wish that the U.S. were doing differently?

Martinelli: I'll tell you what we did: We cut taxes, we cut import barriers, we cut red tape and we enforced a collection of taxes. And we invested heavily in infrastructure. That created the momentum for all the people to invest. What we're doing is putting a stimulus on the economy in the sectors that people could invest more and could have a profound effect on the employment of Panamanian citizens.

Hobson: Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal is the president of Panama. Thank you so much for joining us.

Martinelli: Thank you sir.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.
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