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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

There are few restrictions regarding import. The most important restrictions are set for products considered as dangerous for Health or which are against law and order.
Certain goods require a license from the Ministry of Agriculture, or from the Department of Trade and Industry (weapons, plants, seeds and live animals).
The non-tariff barriers considerably restrict the freedom of import (very strict quotas, reference prices and excessive sanitary standards).
Colon Free Trade Zone (FTZ) or Zona Libre de Colon (ZLC) on the Atlantic coast, created in 1948, ranks second in the world after Hong Kong. In the FTZ, some particular products can be imported, stored, modified and re-exported, without any need to go through customs whether on entrance or on exit, nor to pay for any special taxes. The strategic location, in the centre of America and near the Panama Canal, offers an important potential for the development of international trade. The most important products of the FTZ are: clothes, broadcasting devices, synthetic clothes, shoes, watches, perfume and fragrance, spirits, cigarettes and pharmaceutical products. The main suppliers of the FTZ are Hong-Kong, South Korea, Singapore, some European countries and the USA. The main customers are the Caribbean islands and the countries of Central America.


Customs duties
The customs duty is calculated ad valorem on the CIF value and varies from 3 to 40%. About 50% of the imports are exempted from the payment of duties. There are 48 types of products submitted to customs tariffs of 90% or over, such as farm and agro-industrial products (strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes and tropical fruits among others).

Imports of goods that are not produced in Panama are submitted to duties below 27%.
Imports are also submitted to an equivalent of the VAT and have to pay a tax on documents, from 2% to 5% on the FOB value (goods submitted to customs duties) and from 5% to 8% (free goods)




Panama has two distinct markets:
- The FTZ
- The rest of the country (48%) which is very poor.
The population with the strongest purchasing power is concentrated in the capital. Consumption habits considerably vary between Panama City and the rest of the country, given that American consumption habits have spread in the capital. Panama imports few industrial equipment goods. Contracts for big construction and infrastructure projects are often granted to joint-ventures with national companies.

The distribution and sale of the products are achieved by importers - distributors who provide very diversified products. Important distribution companies are usually located within the FTZ and provide the whole America. The FTZ is an important redistribution centre.
Supermarkets and hypermarkets are numerous in the capital: Rey, Casa de la Carne and Cago Super 99. Small businesses remain the most widespread form of retail sale, in Panama City as well as in the rest of the country.
The international trade fair in Panama (EXPOCOMER) takes place every years and is done mainly for trade.


Transportation of goods

By road
The road network consists of 10,147 km, of which less than 35% is tarred. The biggest part of the network is in quite a poor condition or abandoned and its modernisation constitutes one of the priorities of multilateral help programmes. There are 2 main road axis: the Pan-American road, which crosses the country from East to West, from the border with Costa Rica up to the Darien's province, before reaching Colombia (there is no ground link with Colombia because of the forests) and the Transismical Way (80 km), which connects the city of Panama with Colon.

By rail
With a 77 km length, the first transcontinental railroad built in the world has been renovated in 2000 linking Balboa and Colon. The trains continously operate and link the Atlantic side and the Pacific side with a 10 trains-per-day-frequency in both directions (i.e. 500,000 containers per year). The current project of the Panama Canal Railway Company is to reach 32 trains per day and would be equivalent to 2 millions containers per year. Since 2006, the PCRC trains have allowed the transport of passengers, besides the fret.

By sea
The State harbour system consists of 16 ports that are classified by the National Port Authorities (NPA) in 3 categories depending on their activity. First, the big harbour complexes of Balboa and Cristobal in the canal zone. Then 7 ports are specialised in goods transportation: Aguadulce (sugar), Almirante and Armuelles (bananas), Vacamonte (fish), Bahia Las Minas, Charco Azul and Chirqui Grande (petroleum). In the third category, there are 7 ports used for general goods, Bahia Las Minas (international), Solo Coke Norte, Muelle Fiscal Panama, Pedregal, Bocas del Toro, Palma and Mutis (coastal navigation). There are also some private ports such as Manzanillo and Solo Coke near Colon.

By air
The only international airport of the country is Tocumen at a distance of 20 km. from Panama. The country also has an airport (Albrook) in the capital for domestic flights and a third airport in Colon (France Field) mostly covers the flights between Panama and Colon. There are also some local aerodromes in David, Puerto Armuelles, Changuinola and Colon. COPA, Company of the Panama Aviation, handles international flights to 21 countries. Domestic flights are handled by the private company Aeroperlas.


The body in charge of the standardisation and certification of products in Panama is the Comision Panameña de Normas Industriales y Técnicas (COPANIT).

Panama is a member country of the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML).
The import of finished products, requires a preliminary licensing from several governmental institutions depending on their nature; the Department of Control of Food and Veterinarian Vigilance of the Ministry of Health is responsible for the sanitary register of foodstuffs. The Department of Pharmacy and Drugs of the same ministry authorises the recording of pharmaceutical products.
Panama's Institute of Foreign Trade (IPCE) monitors the conformity of the imports with the bilateral agreements.

Patents and brands

The Panamanian organisation for the protection of intellectual property is the Dirección General del Registro de la Propriedad Industrial , which is part of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Panama signed the Interamerican General Agreement for the Trademark manufacture and Commercial Protection of 1929.
The new Law on Industrial Property, approved in April, 1996, meets WTO requirements. The law severely punishes trademarks and patents hacking, and plans fast legal proceedings, in case of a conflict.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent - Period of validity of 20 years
Trademark - Period of validity of 10 years
Design - Period of validity of 10 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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