text WIF STENGER photos SHUT TERSTOCK
Ready for the New Panamax? Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. The birthday was to be celebrated with a massive expansion, reshaping world trade routes and shipping. But the Canal’s huge third lane won’t open until 2015 – and may not have such a big impact after all.
or a century, the Panama Canal has spared ships vast amounts of time, fuel and danger by offering a shortcut through the narrowest point of the Americas. In recent years, though, the canal has reached its carrying capacity, and today more and more ships are simply too big to fit through its narrow locks. The new third set of locks, accompanied by deeper waterways, will allow much larger ships to pass. Panama hopes its four billion euro investment will pay off in the future with higher fees and a position as South America’s transport hub. The investment means that maximum cargo capacity of the canal will grow from the current 5,000 TEU to 13,000 TEU, with 19 containers across the deck.
No dramatic changes
The bigger canal will facilitate movement from South America to Asia and from Asia to Africa.
However, two North American experts downplay the impact the enlargement of the Panama Canal will have on maritime trade. They point out there are doubts due to changing drivers behind global trade and Panama’s higher fees, which together are opening opportunities to get containers to their destinations in alternative ways. In short, it remains unclear how the world’s shipping routes will change post2015. “I don’t expect dramatic changes, at least in the short and medium terms,” says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a Canadian-born Professor of Global Studies and Geography at Hofstra University in New York. “The expansion will bring some capacity and cost changes, but these have to be looked at along with other, more significant trade forces. These include the price of labour and raw materials, global demand, outsourcing, offshoring and free trade agreements. I expect general macroeconomic factors to be more significant than the expansion of the Canal,” he says. “Diversion of shipping due to the expansion is not likely to be as strong as has been discussed,” agrees John C. Martin, President KALMAR GLOBAL
Published on Jun 28, 2013