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September 17, 2018

2:00-3:00 p.m.

Opening remarks

Thank you and welcome to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Our U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao also sends her greetings and best wishes.

It’s again our pleasure to host you here in D.C. for the signing of the U.S.-panama Memorandum of Cooperation.

First, I want to recognize our Panamanian delegation: Minister Jorge Barakat Pitty (hor-heh bara-kat piti), Minister of Maritime Affairs and Administrator; Guimara Tunon (gi-mara tu-nion), Director General of Ports and Maritime Ancillary Industries, and Administrative Assistant Yaritza del C. Romero Nelson (yaritza romero). Again, welcome.

When you last visited us in May, we reaffirmed our bi-lateral commitment to continue working cooperatively on a range of issues, such a port infrastructure development, coastal and inland waterway development, and seafarer education and training.

And we very much enjoyed our meetings last fall, working with Panama at the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Committee on Ports (CIP).

Your work chairing the logistics, innovation and competitiveness technical advisory group has been excellent and we enjoyed touring the canal itself.

As we have established at each of our prior meetings, our nations share a rich maritime heritage and many mutual concerns about how these strategic assets serve our mutual security and economic strength.

We have forged a friendship built not just on our maritime interests, and an economic foundation centered on ocean commerce — but on our shared commitment to freedom and democracy.

We are proud to be the largest market served by the Panama Canal, and our nation continues to see significant benefits from its multi-billion dollar expansion. In 2017, total maritime trade between the United States and Panama totaled $5.6 billion.

U.S. exports to Panama in 2017 amounted to 7.4 million metric tons of cargo valued at $5.2 billion. The expansion has in turn lowered costs for shipping to U.S. east coast ports from Asia, and for shipping east coast exports to pacific rim markets.

So, it’s clear we have a valuable bi-lateral partnership with panama, one well worth continuing.

Today we’ve come back together specifically to sign a memorandum of cooperation with panama. In doing so, we are officially formalizing our mutual commitments and objectives while acknowledging a desire to strengthen ties of friendship, understanding, and cooperation in maritime transportation.

We believe the memorandum establishes an adequate, positive framework from which to manage ongoing cooperative initiatives between both nations to develop efficient, safe and sustainable maritime transportation sectors.

A number of objectives are set forth, including agreeing to share information related to maritime policy and the training of seafarers and port operators.
It also sets forth some goals for encouraging private-sector involvement in future maritime opportunities and investments, among others.

This is a good template – a good foundation, if you will — for goal-setting, for measuring progress and ultimately achieving important mutual objectives in years to come.

We have a lot to talk about, so thank you again for coming, and let’s get started.

Closing remarks

As always, it has been a pleasure meeting with you today, sharing information, and signing the memorandum of cooperation.  Formalizing our mutual intentions to collaborate and grow not only our maritime transportation systems but our ties of friendship is an important step as we move forward.

Again, thank you to minister Jorge Barakat Pitty — and the rest of your delegation — for coming.

We covered a lot of ground and set the stage for future conversations around a host of topics.

These included issues of maritime security, port infrastructure, mariner training, the advent of autonomous vessels — and the many challenges both our nations face in maintaining competitive maritime industries.

In these trying days for our industry, it is good for both parties to affirm our clear intent to keep moving forward under the memorandum’s provisions. By doing so, we will continue to share our institutional expertise, knowledge and skills to advance trade between our nations and internationally.

The memorandum asserts that we are in full agreement on the importance of maritime transportation to the economic development and security of both nations.

I can’t think of a stronger foundation to build upon. As such, this memorandum of cooperation can, and will, I hope, be a guiding star for the future of our nations on many important initiatives.

Next week, as you know, (September 19-21) the OAS-CIP, or Organization of American States Inter-American Ports Committee, and MARAD will be hosting the Second Hemispheric Conference on Port Security at the university of Miami. Our team looks forward to seeing you there.

There are some important and timely topics to be discussed, like strengthening port security and our risk management strategies during disasters. We’re now right in the middle of hurricane season, so those conversations should be constructive and helpful.

I will also note here that we are looking forward to the opening of your new cruise terminal next year. I understand it’s targeted for completion in June, and we will certainly make plans to travel to Panama to celebrate that with you.

As always, it has been our sincere pleasure to host you here at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Thank you all again for coming — and especially for your friendship and partnership in all these areas we share in common. Best wishes and clear sailing until we meet again.

Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018