UPDATE 1-Economic growth in Panama cools in February

viernes 24 de abril de 2015 19:39 GYT

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PANAMA CITY, April 24 (Reuters) - Panama's economic growth slowed sharply in February, dragged down by a slump in manufacturing, weaker trade in Panama's Free Trade Zone, and the completion of massive public works projects.

The economy grew 4.31 percent in February compared with the same month last year, the government's statistics office said on Friday, below the 5.8 percent reached in January.

The statistics office said construction was hampered by the conclusion of infrastructure projects and decreasing activity on the Panama canal expansion, which had helped lift economic growth to one of the highest rates in Latin America.

The expanded waterway, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, was originally due to open last year, but disputes over funding and delays have pushed that back to 2016.

Commercial activity was also down in Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone, the world's largest duty-free area after Hong Kong, which has been affected by falling demand from Venezuela due to its weak economy and a dispute with Columbia over tariffs.

The government expects Panama to grow between 6 and 7 percent this year. (Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Bernard Orr)