The Inter-American Development Bank today announced it hosted a first meeting of multilateral finance and cooperation institutions and bilateral donor agencies to explore support for the Puebla-Panama Plan, an initiative launched by Mexico and Central American countries to promote integration and sustainable development in their region.
Delegates from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Andean Development Corporation, the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N. Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation attended the meeting held at the IDB headquarters this week.
"The Puebla-Panama Plan could well be a catalyst for many long-pending projects in the Mesoamerican region," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias. "This is a comprehensive plan that will involve the public and private sectors and the civil societies of the eight participating countries."
Iglesias added that the international community would be called upon to provide technical assistance and know-how as well as financial support for the projects in the plan.
At this initial meeting with potential supporters, the IDB proposed to hold a series of talks over the next few months to discuss possible financing for the various projects.
Earlier this month the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama and the prime minister of Belize appointed the IDB as coordinator of a high-level financing committee for their integration plan. The committee, which includes the finance ministers of the eight participating countries and nine Mexican states, will identify public, private and multilateral sources of financing.
The IDB, which will establish a special unit to coordinate its different departments’ support for the Puebla-Panama Plan, will also participate in the promotion of its projects.
Puebla-Panama Plan’s eight initiatives
The plan launched earlier this year seeks to accelerate integration and development in a region that covers nearly 375,000 sq. miles and has 64 million inhabitants. It includes all seven countries in Central America and the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz and Yucatan.
While the Mesoamerican region is rich in terms of culture and biodiversity, its development indicators lag the rest of Latin America’s. The Puebla-Panama Plan will strive to overcome the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters and bridge a long-standing infrastructure deficit that has prevented its countries from profiting more from their proximity to large foreign markets.
The plan is divided into eight main areas known as the Mesoamerican initiatives: sustainable development, human development, natural disaster prevention, trade facilitation, roadway integration, electrical interconnection, telecommunications development and eco-tourism promotion.
Region-wide projects will be undertaken in each of the initiatives, provided they preserve the environment and reflect the interests of involved communities. Consultations with civil society and public information will be key elements in the Puebla-Panama Plan.
Up to now the Puebla-Panama Plan includes 17 specific projects, many of which can be traced back to studies financed by the IDB to find initiatives that would boost integration and stronger ties among Central American nations and among the states in southern and southeastern Mexico.
Regarding human and sustainable development, several projects will focus on traditionally disadvantaged groups such as low-income farmers, Indian peoples and Afro-Caribbean communities. The plan will encourage their participation in programs for environmental management and the sustainable use of natural resources, as well as strengthen their local government institutions.
Other programs will bolster the region’s legal and regulatory frameworks on environmental management, improve statistical databases on migrations and establish a regional network of labor skills training.
In the field of natural disaster prevention, the plan will include a project to improve the region’s hydrometeorological information systems. It will also support the development of a market for catastrophe insurance and campaigns to raise awareness of measures to reduce the region’s exposure to natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, landslides and earthquakes.
The trade facilitation initiative will promote the elimination of non-tariff barriers and other obstacles to intraregional commerce. This part of the plan will emphasize the modernization of customs to streamline and speed up procedures, as well as foster cooperation among small- and medium-size businesses to boost exports.
Roadway integration will seek to lower the region’s overland transport costs, which are considerably higher than in other regions of the world, basically by linking and improving highways along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
Energy interconnection will aim at creating a unified regional market to attract investments and reduce the cost of electricity. The telecommunications initiative will foster the development of a regional fiber optic network.
Private sector investment and financing is expected to play a major role in the Puebla-Panama Plan’s roads, energy and telecommunications initiatives, freeing up public sector resources for social projects in health, education and housing.
Finally, the tourism initiative will pool efforts to promote the region’s ecological and cultural attractions.
- Peter Bate