Colombia also has one of Latin America's highest unemployment rates,
around 10 percent, and inferior roads and ports keep it from fully taking
advantage of the free trade agreement, Santana said. "Infrastructure is our
People in Panama City, meanwhile, say their country is under construction -- not only because of the canal expansion but also because of road projects, new office towers and a Panama City subway system that are being built.
"Panama City is doing great -- it's almost like an American city,'' said Moreno, the Colombian researcher. The problem, he said, is "growth isn't generalized across the country.''
Last year, the Panamanian economy grew by 10.5 percent and the boom is expected to continue this year with ECLAC predicting 7.5 percent growth.
The canal expansion, as well as Panama's status as a financial and trading center, has helped pique interest by banks and corporations interested in planting regional headquarters in Panama City. And that in turn has piqued interest in the commercial trophy towers that dot Panama City's skyline, said Asieh Mansour, head of Latin American research for CBRE, a global real estate services company.
"This type of space just hasn't been available before,'' she said.
"Overall, she said, Latin America's growing middle-class, improved labor markets, and the trend toward pro-growth fiscal policies combined with very limited supply of commercial space "is fueling growth within Latin America's key commercial real estate markets.''
But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges ahead for the region.
The World Bank says with the exception of oil, commodity prices are expected to fall this year.
And count Venezuela, Argentina and Jamaica in the challenging column because of internal problems
Argentina is plagued by high inflation and strapped for cash. Efforts to build up reserves and to better balance imports and exports have led to exchange rate controls and import restrictions that traders say have had a chilling effect on their business.
Argentina also has been under fire for its statistics-keeping.
The government, for example, has said the inflation rate last year was 10.8 percent, but private estimates place it closer to 25 percent. The recent price set by the government for a 27-item basic food basket for a family of four worked out to about six pesos per person per day -- an amount the Associated Press found would buy little more than a cup of yogurt in Buenos Aires. The government uses the food basket to help determine the inflation rate.
"Argentina has been faking its inflation rate for a number of years and everyone knows that,'' said Heath, and when you underestimate inflation, you overestimate growth. "The situation in Argentina is probably much worse than reported.''
The International Monetary Fund board met Friday and voted to censure Argentina for not providing accurate economic data -- a step that could eventually lead to sanctions such as barring Argentina from access to IMF loans.
"We're just not sure how the business of exchange controls will shake out this year,'' said Victor Mora, managing director for global operations for Lennox International, a Texas company that's a global leader in the air
Most Popular Stories
- American Airlines, US Airways Complete Merger
- ACA Delay Stresses Small Businesses
- Questions Remain in Jenni Rivera's Death
- Unemployed Wait as Lawmakers Debate
- Harley Issues Motorcycle Recall
- General Dynamics Plans 200 New Jobs in N.M.
- Auto Dealer Builds Big Solar Project
- Entrepreneurs' Next Creation May Be New Laws
- Saab Gets Back into the Game; U.S. Auto Sales Soar
- Dell Offers Undisclosed Number of Employee Buyouts