Lynch, For Panama Canal, USAToday, Aug. 2009.
“For Panama Canal, a new era of trade is coming
By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY
PANAMA CITY — Under leaden skies, mammoth yellow vehicles prowl an enormous gash in
the earth. Excavators, bulldozers and loaders relentlessly carve the rippled black and brown
ground, reshaping nature's handiwork.
There's no sense of drama or romance or history. Nothing to suggest this sprawling site is
But these workers are trying to improve upon one of the great engineering feats of history: the
. On the other side of a nearby rise, the refrigerated cargo ship
hauling fruit from
, is easing through the canal's almost century-old Miraflores
Locks. Now, under a $5.25 billion project, the canal authority is adding a third lane to the ocean-
spanning waterway that will double its capacity and allow access to the world's largest cargo-
"We are eliminating the restrictions the canal has imposed on the maritime industry. … The
capability you have here, you have nowhere else in the world," says Alberto Aleman, the canal
How much of an impact the bigger, better canal will have on global trade patterns remains to be
seen. Roughly 65% of the goods sailing through the canal go to or from U.S. shores, and
American ports and rail yards that compete with the canal will fight to retain as much business as
they can. Cargo from Asia, for example, can reach U.S. markets either via the canal or by
docking at a West Coast port and riding rail lines to inland destinations.
Shippers must balance myriad factors — fuel costs, type of cargo, time and distance — in
calculating the best route for individual shipments. "It's possible to reach Chicago a lot of
different ways," says Paul Bingham, managing director of global commerce and transportation
for IHS Global Insight.
But Peter Keller, president at NYK Line, says the expanded canal will send a seismic shock
through the business of transporting goods around the globe. Among the fallout: construction of
larger vessels for bulk cargo, such as iron ore, and a tougher climate for American dockworkers
seeking pay raises.