Panama Canal Expansion Project
September 11-13, 2013
SLC Economic Development, Transportation & Cultural Affairs Committee Technical Tour

Panama Canal Expansion Project

A delegation of state transportation leaders from eight Southern states, led by Senator Keith M. Ingram, the 2013/2014 chair of The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Southern Office, the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), recently traveled to Panama for high level briefings on the Panama Canal expansion project. Along with the current SLC chair Senator Ingram, the delegation included Senator Gerald Allen, Alabama, Chair, Senate Committee on Commerce, Transportation and Utilities; Representative Ron Stephens, Georgia, Chair, House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism; Senator Gary Smith, Louisiana, Member, Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works; Senator Warren Daniel, North Carolina, Co-Chair, Senate Committee on Transportation; Representative W. Brian White, South Carolina, Chair, House Committee on Ways and Means; Senator Mark Norris, Tennessee, Senate Majority Leader and 2010/2011 Chair of the SLC and 2013/2014 Chair-Elect of The Council of State Governments (CSG); and, Delegate S. Chris Jones, Virginia, House of Delegates. 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.

For more than a decade, the SLC has focused on the critical role played by Southern ports not only in the economic calculations of the Southern region but also the nation as a whole. The decision by the government of Panama to proceed with the $5.25 billion expansion project has been touted as one of the most transformative global transportation projects currently in progress. Upon completion in 2014, 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. Arkansas is an SLC state that is expected to be impacted directly by the increase in cargo and vessel traffic in the aftermath of the Panama Canal expansion. In 2012, total U.S. exports to Panama amounted to $9.8 billion and Arkansas’ exports totaled more than $9 million.

Scheduled meetings of the delegation began with a series of briefings and a tour of the Panama Canal Authority. At the Miraflores Center, the delegation received a detailed briefing on the expansion effort and its critical importance in the effective and efficient transfer of cargo between Asia and the Americas. Officials with the Panama Canal Authority elaborated on the role of the Canal’s expansion in the context of surging global trade and the contemporary shipping industry trend of deploying substantially larger vessels to take advantage of economies of scale. Also included on the technical tour was a visit and further briefings on the operation of the control tower of the current locks.

The SLC delegation met with officials at 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 briefings at the U.S. Embassy were carried out by Mr. James Perez, Economic Counselor and Mr. G. Nar Dao, Economic Officer. The delegation visited the offices of the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Panama (AmCham Panama) for briefings and dialogue on the potential for expanding the economic and financial relationships between Panama and corporate and business interests in the SLC states. Providing information on these topics to the SLC delegation were Mr. C.E. Maurice Belanger, Executive Director of AmCham Panama, Ms. María Eugenia Fonseca, Mr. Hector Aguilar and Mr. Robert St. John, the 2013 President, Secretary and Director of AmCham Panama, respectively.

The SLC delegation’s final agenda item was a meeting with Mr. Roberto Roy, Minister of the Panama Canal and the Chairman of the Board of the Panama Canal Authority.