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Panama: 2015 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for Panama

Summary: Backdrop and Outlook. Panama’s economic growth is slowing towards its medium-term potential and is expected to remain in the 6–7 percent range over the next 5 years. Inflation has been declining due to lower oil prices and price controls imposed on some food items in July 2014. The external current account deficit remains elevated, with foreign direct investment as the main source of financing, but should moderate over time as investment winds down and the corresponding projects start generating exports. Risks. A globally integrated economy brings substantial benefits to Panama, but also makes it vulnerable to external shocks to global growth, trade, and financial markets. However, strong fundamentals and the room to implement a countercyclical fiscal response would mitigate the impact of such external shocks. Delayed reforms to financial transparency are an important risk that could restrict access to global capital and the international payments system. Policy advice. It is essential to finalize the strengthening of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework in order to comply with the international standard. The fiscal framework needs to be strengthened to serve as a solid medium-term anchor. In particular, fiscal buffers should be enhanced to cope with risks and expected or potential liabilities. In parallel, the pension system needs to be reformed, notably to address the large unfunded pension liabilities. Financial sector reforms should be geared towards implementing fully the remaining recommendations of the 2011 Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP), including establishing a facility for the provision of temporary liquidity to banks, improving the monitoring of external and systemic risks, upgrading the legislation on non-bank financial intermediaries, and developing further the macroprudential policy framework along with key instruments. Further investment in training, education, and healthcare will raise labor productivity and promote sustained and more inclusive growth.