September 23-25, 2015
SLC Economic Development, Transportation & Cultural Affairs Committee Technical Tour

Panama Canal Expansion Project

A delegation of state legislative leaders from five states, including Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (North Carolina); Speaker Tim Moore (North Carolina); Senator Frank Ginn (Georgia); Representative Neal Collins (South Carolina); Senate President Pro Tempore Pam Roach (Washington); and Senator Nancy Todd (Colorado), recently traveled to Panama for high level briefings on the Panama Canal expansion project. The delegation agenda was designed to reinforce the need for Southern ports to continue essential infrastructure enhancements to accommodate the significantly larger vessels and expanded cargo volumes expected to arrive after the completion of the Panama Canal expansion. The 2015 delegation to Panama, organized by the SLC, was the fourth consecutive visit to that country for briefings on the Panama Canal expansion, and included legislators from The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Western region, CSG-WEST.

For more than a decade, the SLC has focused on the critical role played by Southern ports in the economic calculations of the Southern region and the nation as a whole. Upon completion in 2016, the Panama Canal will facilitate an even greater flow of trade between Asia and the Americas and substantially impact the volume of trade reaching Gulf and Atlantic Coast ports in the United States. Nearly all the states will be impacted directly by the increase in cargo and vessel traffic in the aftermath of the Panama Canal expansion. In 2014, total U.S. exports to Panama amounted to $10.5 billion.

The delegation’s scheduled meetings began with a series of briefings by the Panama Canal Authority and a tour of the Canal and expansion project. At the Miraflores Center, the delegation received a detailed briefing from Mr. Luis Ferreira, Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal Authority, on the expansion effort and its critical importance in the effective and efficient transfer of cargo between Asia and the Americas. Also included on the technical tour was a visit to and further briefings on the operation of the control tower of the current locks. The legislators also traveled to the site of the new Pacific locks for additional briefings on security procedures and equipment.

The delegation then visited the U.S. Embassy in Panama for a briefing on U.S. – Panama political, economic and social linkages, which included reference to the impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Panama that was signed into law in October 2011. The briefing included an extended discussion with officials including Ms. Leslie O’Connor, Deputy Assistant United States Trade Representative for Central America and the Dominican Republic; Mr. John Coronado, Senior Commercial Officer; Ms. Mimi Lu, Economics Officer; and Mr. Chris Andino, Head of the Political Section. The delegation also received briefings from the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Panama (AmCham Panama) on the potential for expanding the economic and financial relationships between Panama and corporate and business interests in all states. Providing details on these topics were Mr. C.E. Maurice Belanger, Executive Director, AmCham Panama and Dr. Max Jimenez, Director of the Georgia Tech Panama Logistics Innovation & Research Center in Panama.