Key figures

Number of cooperatives per sector
Key figures

Research overview

Responding to challenges and existing knowledge gaps facing the cooperative movement, this mapping research seeks to provide exhaustive information on cooperatives around the world.

This is achieved through a process jointly conducted by the ICA and its four regional offices – Cooperatives of the Americas, Cooperatives Europe, ICA Africa, and ICA Asia-Pacific – using a common methodology, designed with the support of external experts from the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse).

Each office collected the input of ICA members present in the countries within its geographic area, by using a common questionnaire, and completing it with relevant national statistics, in order to obtain a picture of the national situation. As a result, the data above is collected following two strategies: 1) a survey targeting ICA cooperative members 2) collecting national statistics already available in the country. The numbers above provide aggregated data from ICA members on the number of cooperatives, as well as the number of cooperative employees and memberships in the country. More methodological information is available in the full report. In Panama, the data is collected for the reference year 2019.

Mapping out cooperatives in each country provides a more precise picture of the cooperative context at national and regional levels, enhances the movement's visibility, networking, partnerships opportunities, as well as advocacy, and empowers cooperators by providing tools for positive change.

This webpage presents a snapshot of the research results for Panama. For more information and the full research results, you can download the report by clicking on the links above.


Between the years 1938 to 1940, the first vestiges of the cooperative movement began in the country. At the University of Panama, courses on cooperativism were given by German professors from the Center for Cooperative Studies of the Institute for Economic Social Studies; But it is in the old Canal Zone, where the first savings and credit cooperative operated in Panama, since in 1937 there was a credit union, “Credit Union”, registered as such in 1934 in the State of Delaware, in the United States.

According to IPACOOP, in Panama, the cooperative school model (youth) was the first to be established thanks to the contribution of Dr. Octavio Méndez Pereira; who, through his diplomatic position held in France, obtained knowledge about the model, organization and operation of school cooperatives.

In 1926, as a deputy of the National Assembly, he proposed and obtained the approval of Law No. 20 by which the organization of school cooperatives was established. In 1950, due to the critical situation in the country, through the mediation of Father Julián, a believer in cooperativism and under the auspices of the “Catholic Congress of Agriculture, Cooperative Promotion and Improvement of Rural Life” held in Panama, they inspired the trial of the cooperative alternative with his parishioners. , the first steps towards the creation of a formal cooperative began.


Panama counts ICA member organisations:

- Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Profesionales R.L. (Cooperativa Profesionales R.L.), is a full member and an intersectoral national organization.

- Instituto Panameño Autónomo Cooperativo (IPACOOP), is an associate member dedicated to cooperative promotion.

In Panama the research questionnaire was distributed to and completed by 2 ICA member organisations. The data collected was for the reference year 2019.

Legal framework

Legal framework
Legal framework


The legal framework analysis aims to provide general knowledge of the national cooperative legislation and of its main characteristics and contents, with particular regard to those aspects of regulation regarding the identity of cooperatives and its distinction from other types of business organisations, notably the for-profit shareholder corporation.

It aims to evaluate whether the national legislation in place supports or hampers the development of cooperatives, and is therefore “cooperative friendly” or not, and the degree to which it may be considered so, also in comparison to the legislation in force in other countries of the ICA region, or at the supranational level.

In addition, the research aims to provide recommendations for eventual renewal of the legal frameworks in place in order to understand what changes in the current legislation would be necessary to improve its degree of “cooperative friendliness”, which is to say, to make the legislation more favourable to cooperatives, also in consideration of their specific identity. This webpage presents a snapshot of the legal framework analysis results for Panama.



The national cooperative legislation is covered by Article 288 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama. The Law 17 of May 1, 1997, defines cooperatives as private associations made up of natural and legal persons, which constitute companies that, without pursuing for-profit, aim to plan and carry out work or services activities of socio-economic benefit, aimed at the production, distribution and cooperative consumption of goods and services with the economic, intellectual and moral contribution of their partners. 


Cooperative Friendliness

In Panama there are no legal barriers to the development of cooperatives, except in the tax legislation, which regards cooperatives as taxable subjects, although it is fair to acknowledge that there is a broad exemption on income and other items, already set out in this report, but these exemptions do not reach the consumption tax (ITBMS), or the real estate transfer tax. The latest cooperative legislation in Panama is around 20 years old and at that time you could say that it was legislation that "Is more in favor of cooperatives than against"; but globalization brought with it major changes in the way trade unfolds, which now has more competitive demands, while the promotion of cooperatives has lost momentum. 


Key recommendations for improvement

  • A body composed of public sector partners and cooperative partners should be established by law to advise the national government in the setting of cooperative policies.
  • The Panamanian Cooperative Autonomous Institute must implement plans, which promote the constitution of youth cooperatives, as a means of maintaining generational relief towards cooperative solidarity.
  • To provide in the law that any dispute between cooperatives or between one of these and any partner, is addressed in an arbitration court or in an alternative dispute resolution center, in a private manner.
  • In Panama, cooperativism has focused on savings and loans, although it would be more beneficial for cooperatives, that by law, incentives were established for consumer, service, housing and agricultural production cooperatives, which have a strong impact on the quality of life of partners.



For our country, the study of the Latin American cooperative legal framework at this moment has proved very beneficial, because it is on the national agenda, the need to introduce reforms to the National Constitution; public clamor that has materialized in a draft reform, prepared by a group of experts, which has already been approved by the Executive Body and delivered it to the National Assembly, for dissemination, consultation and approval, previous to the national referendum. The opportunity will be seized, using cooperative organizations as a means, to bring to the National Assembly our recommendations aimed at benefiting cooperatives.

For several years now, the need to reform the CL has been discussed in our country, in order to adapt it to the dramatic changes in the economic and social field, which have occurred in the present century. The study promoted by the ICA will also be of great use, to incorporate it as working documents, to produce a bill that updates cooperative legislation.




The legal frameworks analysis is a tool developed under the ICA-EU Partnership #coops4dev. It is an overview of the national legal frameworks at the time of writing. The views expressed within are not necessarily those of the ICA, nor does a reference to any specific content constitute an explicit endorsement or recommendation by the ICA. 

Subscribe to Panama