2 Jul 2016

Panama Canal expansion

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 2 July 2016
A Panamax ship in transit through the Miraflores locks, Panama Canal

A Panamax ship in transit through the Miraflores locks, Panama Canal Photo: (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz Mariordo CC BY 3.0)

An expanded Panama Canal, built to cope with today's giant container ships, opened for business last weekend.

New locks on the route are now able to handle 365 metre long vessels carrying up to 14,000 containers. The move's been hailed by New Zealand exporters as way to keep costs down and our $49 billion export market competitive.

But the whole process has been beset by multi-billion dollar cost blowouts, delays, construction disputes and ongoing safety concerns. Meanwhile there's the prospect of a rival canal opening in nearby Nicaragua backed by Chinese investors, and the global shipping industry is experiencing its worst recession in half a century.

So what's the outlook for the new and improved Panama Canal and its ongoing role in world trade? Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times has won three Pulitzer prizes and has been in Panama looking at how the building of the expanded canal's been going.

'The consequences will be wide-ranging if the canal does not deliver as promised. American grain and soybean farmers and producers of liquefied natural gas, for example, may find it harder to sell to Asian customers. Asian manufacturers may forsake the struggling ports on America's East Coast for those in the West. Or they, and ultimately consumers, will shoulder the added cost of going the long way around, through the Suez Canal.' Walt Bogdanich in The New York Times

Panama Canal Panorama

Panama Canal Panorama Photo: (Flickr user ajagendorf25 CC BY-NC 2.0)