Panama is a memorable place for me since I visited on a business trip about 10 years ago. At that time, I participated in an urban transportation seminar because the Government of Panama was about to launch urban transportation development in Panama City. It is my great pleasure to be involved in the Panama City Urban Transportation Line-3 Project with JICA's ODA loans 10 years later since then, as the Chief Representative of JICA Panama Office.
Japan established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Panama in 1904, and JICA started its cooperation in 1963. For more than 50 years, we have worked to implement various cooperation through Technical Cooperation (Dispatch of Experts, Training Program in Japan and so on), ODA Loans, Grant Aid, and Volunteer Program.
In addition, Panama is an extremely important country for Japan. The Panama Canal is, needless to say, one of the most important infrastructure in the world, and as a fact Japan is the third largest user country (2020, weight-based).
The canal also has historical relationship with Japanese engineer Akira Aoyama who participated in the construction work more than 100 years ago, and is well known through the textbook of elementary schools in Japan. Thus, Japanese have strong feeling of familiarity to this country through the canal.
Recently, Panama has achieved a steady and firm economic growth, leaded by its financial sector and logistics sector including the canal, however the impact of the COVID-19 is enormous. The cumulative numbers of positive cases and deaths per capita due to this new virus are around the 15th worst in the world respectively, and the economic growth rate in 2020 is estimated to decrease significantly by -9% compared to the previous year. Although various restrictions such as curfew and quarantine in the weekend are currently being relaxed gradually, such measures have affected severely on people's lives, health, livelihoods and socio-economic situation of the country.
Under these circumstances, JICA has been contributing to economic reactivation through job creation and infrastructure development in the metropolitan area of Panama by the Line-3 Project, as well as implementing cooperation in such challenges as environmental conservation in basins of the Panama Canal and elimination of inequality between urban and rural areas.
In With/Post Corona era, we, JICA, would like to further cooperate for Panama, which is already a country of relatively high-income level although influence of the COVID-19 still remains, utilizing technologies and funds of the private sector, sharing Japanese experience through JICA Development Studies Program (JICA-DSP) and JICA Chair (JICA Program for Japanese Studies), applying digital transformation (DX) and supporting relationship of local governments between Panama and Japan.
As the Chief Representative of JICA Panama Office, I am pleased to contribute to further strengthening the long-standing cooperative relationship between the two countries, working hard together with Panamanian and Japanese stakeholders.
Thank you very much.