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EXCLUSIVE: New Panama Canal toll structure to be 'innovative' says Administrator Quijano

EXCLUSIVE: New Panama Canal toll structure to be 'innovative' says Administrator Quijano
A week before the announcement of the future Panama Canal tolls structure, Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Administrator Jorge Quijano explained, in an exclusive interview with Seatrade Global, the new tolls structure, which will include a series of “very innovative” incentives representing “a total new approach”.

“The idea is to attract more volume and recognise those customers who have maintained their services and loyalty to the Canal and change from a policy of tolls increase to volume increase,” Quijano explained.

Quijano is set to announce the tolls structure early January followed by public hearings likely to be scheduled in February, with the goal of presenting a final proposal after evaluation (of the public hearings results) before the end of March. “The new tolls structure should enter in effect sometimes at the end of the first quarter of 2016 but will be subject to the date when the waterway opens to navigation its third set of locks. The tolls will be valid for all the Canal system and cover the present and future Canal,” Quijano said.

In new that will be welcome for shipowners he added, “There will be no tolls increase from now to 2016.”

One of the new features will be a “loyalty programme” with a premium rate incentive, solely for the container trade that brings 40% of the Canal tolls income, “to attract new services to the waterway,” said the ACP Administrator. “There will be other incentives in the bulker area to draw larger vessels carrying iron ore and in the grain trade.”  

However, the third set of locks will feature a different rate for container vessel post-panamax or neo-panamax “as we want volume to compensate for the price [of tolls] and is going to be differentiated by range of thousands teu starting at 6,000 teu up to 12,000 teu and above the 12,000 teu, the container vessels will be charged by the maximum capacity they can carry.”  In addition there will be a special rate for loaded containers.

“Why we try to do is creating a balance eastbound with the less-loaded westbound transit and giving a premium rate to loaded containers versus empties,” he explained. “Achieving this round trip will be economical [for the liners] and allows the Canal to be part with the customers in market fluctuations and the economies of scale.”

 ‘It is a new proposal with a greater participation in the [shipping] market for a new Canal.”

The vessels carrying LNG, with their distinctive features, will become the newest segment of Canal operations when the third set of locks is inaugurated since they are presently restricted in transiting the Panama Canal due to their size.  The tariffs for LNG, which will be calculated in cubic metres, have been through a consultation process and will be “very acceptable to the market”.

This new segment is expected to become the third largest segment after containers and grains with eventually two or three vessels transiting per day, as the US is bound to become an important supplier of LNG to Asia from its Gulf ports.

The Panama “all-water” route will save time and money to the energy companies moving LNG and although some of them have claimed that only smaller vessels carrying LNG would fit in the new locks, the ACP said the majority of LNG vessels can be accommodated into the 55 m wide locks and within the established beam limits of 49 m for the vessels.