The current Panamanian government, led by President Ricardo Martinelli, took office in July 2009. When Panama joined the WTO in 1997, the government lowered tariffs to a maximum of 15%, except for a few agricultural products, and to an overall average of 12%, the lowest in the region. The revised import duty structure was significantly lower than the one negotiated for WTO accession and represented a substantial commitment to trade liberalization.
As part of the concluded negotiations for the Trade Promotion Agreement between the U.S. and Panama, the previous administration approved a Phytosanitary Agreement that eliminated sources of discretion and abuse in the import approval process, thus lifting any existing phytosanitary barriers. Panama has no other trade barriers.
No import licenses are required in Panama. Any company holding a commercial license can freely import goods into Panama. A commercial or industrial license is required by individuals or companies wishing to engage in commercial or industrial activities. Phytosanitary permits are required to import non-food agricultural products only. Special import permits are required for all types of firearms, ammunition, fertilizers, and certain foods. Import permits can be obtained from the Ministry of Security.
The Fiscal Code regulates all matters concerning the country's exports. The Code establishes that all national products may be exported, except:
• Drugs, with the exception of those having pharmaceutical or scientific purposes.
• Staple products determined by the government to be temporarily scarce in the country.
• Those products the Panamanian government decides not to export for reasons of international agreements or for the economic interest of the country.
Law 61 of 2002 abolished the requirement for some exports (primarily metals and natural resources) to pay taxes.
Processing of customs documents in Panama for imports is fast, efficient and reliable. Merchandise imported into Panama must be cleared through customs by a customs broker licensed by the government of Panama. The following goods are imported under duty free status: those that are consigned to national or municipal governments, imported by foreign diplomats, consigned to the Panama Canal, sold to vessels transiting the Canal, or intended for re-export.
Basic import documentation required by the Panamanian Customs office includes:
Import Declaration (prepared and signed by a customs broker).
Commercial Invoice (original plus four copies to be presented in English or Spanish).
Bill of Lading (to be presented in triplicate).
Commercial license number.
Phytosanitary Certificate (In case of animal and plant products, to be obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and previous authorization from the Panamanian Food Safety Authority (AUPSA).
Certificate of Free Sale (if required).
Certificate of Origin (if required).
Any food product or other item used for human consumption (including for use on human skin or clothes) may be subject to the Certificate of Free Sale (CFS) documentation requirement. The main purpose of the CFS is to verify that a product is sold freely and used widely in the U.S. Potential exporters of items subject to the CFS documentation requirement may wish to contact the Food and Drug Administration, Division of Programs and Enforcement Policy, 200 C Street, SW, Washington, DC 20204. As of the date of this publication, the relevant FDA guidance can be found here: http://www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/ucm125789.htm.
The bill of lading must be presented for the clearance of goods without exception. If for any reason any other required document cannot be presented within 24 hours after the shipment has arrived, clearance of the goods will be permitted by posting a bond equal to the amount of import duties. The bond is cancelled if the prescribed documents are presented in due form within a period of 90 days. The bond may be extended in justified cases, an additional 90 days.
For additional information on:
U.S. Export Controls
Labeling and Marking Requirements
Prohibited and Restricted Imports
Customs Regulations and Contact Information
Trade Agreements Contacts