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Trade Regulations and Standards in Panama

September 2015


Import Tariffs

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. In October 2012, the Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) between the United States and Panama came into effect and reduced import duties to zero for 87% of the products in the tariff schedule, with the exception of some food and agricultural products, on which duties will reduce gradually over the course of the next ten years.

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Trade Barriers

As part of the negotiations for the TPA, Panama 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.

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Import Requirements and Documentation

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, and fertilizers.

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U.S. Export Controls

There are no specific U.S. export controls regarding Panama, with the exception of fire arms, ammunition, and certain high tech goods that require U.S. export licenses.

A list that consolidates eleven export screening lists of the Departments of Commerce, State, and the Treasury into a single search as an aid to industry in conducting electronic screens of potential parties to regulated transactions is available here: http://developer.trade.gov/consolidated-screening-list.html.

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Temporary Entry

The Panamanian Fiscal Code establishes a temporary entry regime of 90 days for all types of merchandise. This temporary entry may be extended for up to one year. There are two options for temporary entry. First, the goods can enter the country if the importer makes a deposit equivalent to the import duty. This payment will be reimbursed at the time the goods leave the country. Second, an insurance company can issue a bond for the importer covering the import duty value, payable if the goods fail to exit the country as scheduled.

Special temporary provisions apply in the case of trade shows and exhibitions taking place at Panama's exhibition and convention center, Atlapa. Goods can enter the Atlapa Convention Center with no warranty payment or bond required.

Samples with commercial value are subject to temporary entry requirements. Samples with no commercial value are admitted duty free. If samples arrive in large containers, they will be dutiable even though they may be marked as free samples.

If the goods are eligible for duty free treatment under the TPA between the United States and Panama, the above procedure does not apply.

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Labeling and Marking Requirements

Local regulations require labels to be in the Spanish language. However, this regulation is not enforced at present, except for medicines, agricultural chemicals, toxic products, and food products that require specific instructions or warnings due to human health risks. Labels are required to have basic information regarding the name and address of manufacturer, expiration date, listing of ingredients, lot number, and the product form, e.g. powder, liquid, etc.

In general, products that comply with U.S. labeling and marking requirements are accepted for sale in Panama. Food products labeling and marking must comply with CODEX Alimentarius guidelines.

All goods arriving in Panama intended for re-exportation immediately must be marked "PANAMA IN TRANSIT" on each box or outside container.

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Prohibited and Restricted Imports

The following products cannot be imported into Panama:

  • Counterfeit coins or printed material that imitates currencies.
  • Equipment or instruments for manufacturing coins.
  • Liquors, wines, beers, or medicines with labels that falsely describe contents, or of any kind of harmful preparation.
  • Certain firearms or war materials.
  • Foreign lottery or raffle tickets.
  • Opium in the form of gum or for smoking.
  • Obscene brochures, books, newspapers, magazines, or postcards containing negative portrayals of the country's culture, civilization, or dignity.
  • Plants, seeds, or animals when determined by the Ministry of Agriculture.

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Customs Regulations and Contact Information

Panama assesses import duties on an ad valorem basis. The ad valorem system uses the declared CIF value as the basis for import duty calculations and in some cases utilizes historical price information as a reference.

In addition to the duty, all imports into Panama are subject to a 7 percent transfer or value added tax (ITBM) levied on the CIF value, plus import duty and other handling charges. Pharmaceuticals, foods, and school supplies are exempt from the ITBM tax.

Due to the TPA between the U.S. and Panama, some 87% of U.S. products enter Panama duty free. For other products, duties may be phased out over time. Since there are a number of exceptions, it is convenient to check what products are under duty free regime. We suggest that U.S. exporters go through the following process to determine duties today and in the future:

  • Customs Info Database - shows you tariffs/duties that Panama is currently assessing. You can access this database by simply signing up with your email address. Note: Panama already allows duty-free imports for certain projects, e.g. Canal expansion or Metro construction. Please contact us for more information on these exceptions.
  • Tariff Tool for Free Trade Agreements – shows you how tariffs will be phased out for any particular good in any country that has a Free Trade Agreement (current or pending) with the U.S. Cautionary note: this tool does not show agricultural products. In addition, it is not completely accurate for current tariff rates; instead, it shows what Panama is allowed to charge, which may be higher.

If you are selling a product with U.S. content, even if it is being sold through the Colón Free Zone to other countries in Latin America, it is worth documenting the content of origin. Doing so makes your products more profitable if sold not only in Panama but through the Colón Free Zone to other countries in Latin America with which the U.S. has a Free Trade Agreement, e.g. Chile, Peru, Colombia, or Dominican Republic.

Beginning in 1995, Panama adopted the Harmonized System (HS) or Tariff Nomenclature as its customs classification system.

In general, the Panamanian customs system does not represent a significant obstacle for U.S. exporters.

Contact information for the Panamanian customs’ office is:

Direccion General de Aduanas
P.O. Box 0819-07729
Panama, Panama
Phone: +507-506-6407
Fax: +507-506-6240
Contact: Jose Gomez Nunez, Director
E-Mail: Analida.lopez@ana.gob.pa
Web: www.ana.gob.pa

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Standards Overview

As a WTO member, Panama implemented the WTO's Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) that includes the Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards. The government of Panama (GOP) passed Law 23 of July 15, 1997, which established new dispositions on product standards, labeling and certification policy, and redefined the functions of the Directorate General of Standards and Industrial Technology (DGNTI) and the Panamanian Commission for Industrial and Technical Standards (COPANIT). Basically, DGNTI was given the main role in establishing standards and technical regulations, while COPANIT was given an advisory role to DGNTI. The National Council for Accreditation (CNA) was charged with all national accreditations.

Panama has an open economy and there are no significant market access problems related to standards and technical regulations. Certain market access problems have occurred in the past with several agricultural products, but they have been mostly related to phytosanitary issues.

According to WTO guidelines, Panama informs WTO of any standards or technical regulations activities. U.S. companies can participate in the standards development process by contacting DGNTI and submitting specific requests or suggestions. There are no limitations to participation by foreign countries.

Products for which Panama has not set standards/regulations can enter the Panamanian market provided that they comply with standards and technical regulations from the U.S., Europe or any other industrialized country.

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Standards Organizations

The Directorate General of Standards and Industrial Technology (DGNTI) establishes technical regulations and standards in Panama. Because of budget and other limitations, this organization has been mostly dedicated to establishing standards for food products upon specific requests by industrial organizations and according to WTO guidelines. DGNTI establishes a semiannual working plan showing all activities it will undertake for the following six months. DGNTI performs its functions through its three departments: Standards, Certifications, and the Information Center.

U.S. Government’s “Notify U.S.” Service

Member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are required under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to report to the WTO all proposed technical regulations that could affect trade with other Member countries. Notify U.S. is a free, web-based e-mail subscription service that offers an opportunity to review and comment on proposed foreign technical regulations that can affect your access to international markets. Register online at Internet URL: http://www.nist.gov/notifyus/.

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Conformity Assessment

While DGNTI leads in conducting conformity assessments, it is joined by a number of other public and private organizations. These organizations include the Central Laboratory of Health from the Ministry of Health (MINSA), the University of Panama, the Technological University of Panama, the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (SENACYT), the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA), the Consumer Protection Authority and Defense of Competition, and the Agricultural Marketing Institute (IMA). Panama does not have any Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with U.S. organizations.

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Product Certification

Once the conformity assessments have been conducted, the DGNTI will issue a conformity assessment certificate. DGNTI is the only organization authorized to issue conformity assessments related to products. Other private organizations such as SGS and Bureau Veritas deal with conformity assessments on system or procedures and can issue certificates, but only related to systems.

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The National Council for Accreditation (CNA) created by Law 23, July 15, 1997, is the government authority in charge of all national accreditations. This Council is formed by a number of government organizations including the Ministries of Commerce, Health and Agricultural Development, and the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (SENACYT). The CNA works through a technical secretariat, which is the technical body of the Council. Accreditation is largely voluntary.

The technical secretariat appoints accreditation committees, which are groups formed by specialists from the public and private sectors. These committees provide basic input for CNA decisions. Accreditation is obligatory for organizations that deal with fuel laboratories and environmental testing laboratories. All other accreditations are voluntary. Accreditation can be granted in three categories: Laboratories (calibration and testing), inspection organizations, and certifying organizations. As of December 2010, there were fifteen organizations that had been accredited by CNA, but there were several accreditation applications under review.

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Publication of Technical Regulations

All final technical norms and regulations are published by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in the Official Gazette or “Gaceta Oficial.”

Law 23 requires that the General Directorate of Standards and Industrial Technology (DGNTI) publishes all agreements, technical regulations, norms, and procedures.

Official Gazette or Gaceta Oficial
Panama, Rep. of Panama
Tel. +507 527-9393
Fax. +507 527-9391


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Trade Agreements

Panama has full FTAs in force with the following countries or economies: (with date of entry into force): El Salvador (2003), Taiwan (2004), Singapore (2006), Chile (2008), Costa Rica (2009), Honduras (2009), Guatemala (2009), Nicaragua (2010),Peru (2012), U.S. (2012), Canada (2013), and Mexico (2015). Panama has partial trade agreements with Dominican Republic (1987), and Cuba (2009). It is engaged in active negotiations with Colombia and the EFTA countries and is part of the Central America-EU FTA that entered into force in 2013.

The U.S. – Panama TPA eliminates tariffs on most U.S. products with remaining tariffs phasing out by 2022. The TPA also includes provisions relating to customs administration and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, government procurement, investment, telecommunications, electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, and labor and environmental protection. Under the TPA, U.S. firms have better access to Panama’s services sector than Panama provides to other WTO Members under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. All services sectors are covered under the TPA except where Panama has made specific exceptions. Moreover, Panama agreed to become a full participant in the WTO Information Technology Agreement. Panama has also entered into a bilateral agreement with the United States that resolved a number of regulatory barriers to trade in agricultural goods ranging from meat and poultry to processed products, including dairy and rice.

Panama has bilateral investment agreements with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan, Canada, Argentina, Spain, Chile, Uruguay, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Korea Ukraine, Sweden, Qatar, Finland, and Italy. The U.S.-Panama Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) entered into force in 1991 (with additional amendments in 2001 to reflect Panama's joining the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The investor protection provisions in the TPA have supplanted those in the BIT. However, investments made under the BIT maintain the option to invoke dispute settlement under either treaty until October 31, 2022.

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Ministerio de Comercio e Industrias
(Ministry of Commerce and Industry)

Meliton Arrocha, Minister
P.O. Box 0815-01119
Panama, Republic of Panama
Tel: +507 560-0661
Fax: +507 560-0663
Web: www.mici.gob.pa

Ministerio de Desarrollo Agropecuario
(Ministry of Agricultural Development)

Jorge Arango, Minister
P.O. Box 0816-01611
Panama, Republic of Panama
Tel: +507 507-0601
Fax: +507 232-9045
Web: www.mida.gob.pa

Ministerio de Salud
(Ministry of Health)

Dr. Javier Terrientes, Minister
P.O. Box 0816-01611
Panama, Republic of Panama
Tel: +507 512-9100
Fax: +507 512-9240
Web: www.minsa.gob.pa

For More Information

The U.S. Commercial Service in Panama can be contacted via e-mail at: enrique.tellez@trade.gov; Phone: 011-507-317-5000; or visit our website: http://www.export.gov/panama.

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