WASHINGTON (AP) _ Panama's national airline is purchasing four Boeing 737-700 jetliners in a $132 million deal that the Export-Import Bank of the United States is helping to finance, the bank announced Wednesday.

Compania Panamena de Aviacion, COPA, will use the aircraft to expand service in regional and international markets. It already serves 24 destinations in 18 countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

``This is the largest transaction ever authorized by Ex-Im Bank for a company in Panama,'' Ex-Im Bank Chairman James A. Harmon, said in a statement. In 1994, the bank financed a $60 million gas turbine export to Panama.

Harmon said the deal will help improve the Central American country's economy while maintaining jobs at the Seattle-based Boeing Co.

The Ex-Im Bank is providing $113 million in long-term term guarantees for purchase of the aircraft and two spare engines.

The bank is an independent U.S. government agency that helps finance the sale of U.S. exports, primarily to emerging market countries, by providing loans, guarantees and insurance. It helped finance nearly $17 billion in exports in 1999.