Cape Town - Relations between South Africa and Panama were given a boost on Thursday with the signing of an agreement between the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman and his Panama counterpart, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Francisco Alvarez de Soto.
De Soto's visit to South Africa is the first by the government of Panama since 1994.
The agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding between the two deputy ministers, regulates co-operation between the two countries' diplomatic academies and focuses on language training between the two countries - in English and Spanish.
Speaking at Cape Town's Taj Hotel, Fransman said aside from signing the agreement, the two also discussed the introduction of flights to Panama City - a regional air hub, the waiver of visa requirements between the two countries, co-operation in combating drugs and promoting sports and arts and cultural linkages.
They two also discussed the possibility of South Africa learning from Panama's experience in managing large infrastructure projects.
Fransman said Panama was strategically placed as it had the Panama Canal, one of the world's most important canals.
About four to six percent of world trade passes through the canal, but after the completion of currents renovations the canal is expected to account for between 12% and 14% of world trade by 2014.
Added to this Panama, one of Latin America's fastest growing countries, has one of the largest free trade zones in the world with about $25 billion (R195 billion) of imports - mostly from Asia - being channelled into the country and into region every year.
"Some people might ask why do we spend so much time and effort internationally and the reason is because it brings valuable engagements and opportunities for investments into the South African arena.
"But also it creates opportunities for our players at an economic level and trade level to offer our services to other parts of the globe," said Fransman.
De Soto commended South Africa for having provided a model for the rest of the world on reconciliation and said Madiba had left an historical legacy to the world for fighting for equality and democratic rights.
Trade between the two countries is highly skewed in favour of South Africa, with exports to Panama in 2011 of R162 million - down from R480 million in 2010, while imports from Panama totalled just R1.5 million in 2010 and R3.4 million in 2011.