The Panama Canal, which since 1914 has been a keystone of both global trade and Panama's economy, will open its long-anticipated expansion today. Panama's President will unveil the new locks and third shipping lane built into the 102-year-old canal. For Panama, the unveiling of the broader canal is a moment of pride and of opportunity. Now, ships as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall, and as broad as Olympic-sized swimming pools, will be able to use the canal.Foreigndignitaries, including the presidents of Taiwan, Chile and other Central American nations, will be present at the ceremony.A Chinese-owned Neopanamax-class cargo ship will be the first vessel to officially test the new infrastructure, entering from the Atlantic and exiting into the Pacific a few hours later. The Neopanamax vessels are much bigger than the Panamax-class ships that previously were the largest able to pass through the 80-kilometer long canal. Each is able to haul three times as much cargo as the smaller predecessors.
Annual cargo volumes should double over the next decade, leading Panama to hope to triple the USD 1 billion in shipping fees it receives each year.
"Also, with the country these days linked to the 'Panama Papers' scandal of offshore businesses owned by the world's wealthy and influential, the expanded canal is seen as a chance to burnish the country's tarnished image”, Panama Canal Authority (ACP) chief Jorge Quijano said.
World trade should also benefit from what will essentially be an inter-oceanic highway for goods between the United States and Asia. More cargo on bigger ships should mean lower transport costs.