By Dafydd Young
Finding a group of fresh faced, intelligent university students at a high level ambassadorial business reception is not an every day event in Panama.
Even less likely when you find that they all refugees from the Canadian winter, intent on spending weeks working in Panama. They may be classified as “tourists” under the travel authority’s sometimes puzzling way of recording visitors, but this 26 strong team from McGill University in Montreal, is not here to join the usual sun, sand and sea crowd but, along with three Panamanian students, they are on a Field Study Semester run jointly by McGill and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
The Semester is run jointly through McGill University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. This year's program involves three courses - Neotropical Biology; Sustained Tropical Agriculture and , Geography: Humans in Tropical Environments, and internship. Before they return in the northern spring, they will have visited (and worked) in every province except Darien.
The courses are run one at a time and involve intensive field work.
Their arrival coincides with an upturn in Canadian interest in Panama as the final implementation of the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement wich is only weeks away, as it works its way through Canadian Parliamentary procedures. With a majority Conservative government in place, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper strongly committed to expanding Canada’s interests in Latin America, final parliamentary ratification of the FTA is not much more than a rubber stamp approval.
But the approaching stamp, expected in June, has spurred interest in Panama and there has been an increase in activity by business representatives of the world’s second biggest country
In recent weeks there has been a visit by Canada’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Diane Ablonzcy who hosted the receptions, to which the McGill srudents were invited. Soon after came trade delegations comprised of Canadian businessmen studying possible imports like pineapples, and there is an ongoing upward curve in real estate investment from Canadians whose holdings in Canada have continued to increase as real estate there avoided the precipitous decline in value of their neighbors to the south.
Minister Ablonzcy hosted a reception for Panamanian businessmen and Canadians working in Panama . which was where I got to meet many of the McGill team whose enthusiastic take on their seminar and their experience in Panama was reminiscent of the young ambassadors of Canada’s Global Vision, who have made two trips to Panama in recent years, and whose mentor and president Terry Clifford was here recently to announce to Canadian Ambassador Sylvia Cesaratto that a new mission to Panama and Brazil will be arriving later in the year.
Panama is blessed.