New Panamanian agreement may boost Coast as import/export market

GULFPORT, MS - A new agreement could make the Mississippi Gulf Coast a larger player in the international trade market. Plans are for food safety experts from the Magnolia state to train Panamanian food inspectors. Officials say this will get shipments in faster and more safely.

While cases of Panamanian bottled water are piled high at the Air Cargo Center in Gulfport, what's not there are imports with a much shorter shelf life like fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Airport officials say a more stringent inspection process in Panama could change that.

Frank Genzer is a commissioner with the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Authority.

"It truly benefits our area by allowing pre-clearance of foods in Central America, especially Panama," said Genzer.

"As they come into our new air cargo facility then they are able to be dispersed immediately as opposed to waiting for our own inspections that occur by the federal government."

Under a new agreement signed on Friday, Mississippi State University experts will teach Panamanian food safety officers how to inspect and reduce contamination risk of food.

Dr. Alcides Jaen is the General Minister of the Panamanian Food Safety Authority.

"The training from the university will include the new rule, the United States law on food security. They call it Food Defense," said Dr. Jaen. "Definitely learning what it is that one needs to do and protect I think is more secure. The exchange of information also."

Officials say they also want to grow the Coast export market into Latin America

"Ultimately what we'll be doing is we'll be having freight coming from different locations around the country. Possibly by truck, possibly by rail to our facility," said Genzer. "Packaged and flown to Panama, where in Panama it will go to other Central and South American countries."

The agreement was signed by Lt. Governor Phil Bryant on behalf of state government, the airport authority, Panamanian officials and Mississippi State University.

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