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FL Ag Commissioner Warns Panama Is Future Competitor

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida could be in a competition with Panama as the Central American nation invests more money into infrastructure, according to the state's Agricultural Commissioner, Adam Putnam.

Florida may soon see an increase in the sale of blueberries and strawberries to Panama, but Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam warned Thursday the state may find itself challenged by the Central American nation.

"If we're to maintain our hold as the gateway to the Americas, and the financial center for Latin America, we can't just rest on our laurels," Putnam said during a telephone conference call with reporters.

The brief call was to provide a recap of Putnam's economic development mission to Panama that ended Wednesday. The mission included a review of trade opportunities as the expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be completed in about a year.

The trip also included an inspection of a pilot program expected to prevent invasive pests from entering Florida on shipments of fresh produce.

While Florida has been bulking up its ports and transportation infrastructure in anticipation of the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal, the Sunshine State may need to up its game amid infrastructure investments being made by Panama, Putnam said. "The skyline of Panama City looks exactly like the Miami skyline, but it's two or three times bigger," Putnam said. "The number of international banks that are moving into Panama is striking.

The investment they are putting into public works, not just the canal, but in roads and airports, I think poses an economic challenge to South Florida that we need to be prepared to meet." As for any economic growth for Florida out of the trip, Putnam said a deal is pending that could allow Florida blueberries to be sold in Panama and to increase the sale of strawberries from the state.

The delegation for Putnam's first trade mission included Bill Johnson, director of PortMiami; Robert Behr, chief operating officer of Florida's Natural Growers; Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms in Plant City; and officials from Putnam's department.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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