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Panama minister pledges ongoing consultations over Canal tolls

Panama minister pledges ongoing consultations over Canal tolls
Panama’s economy is booming ahead of the scheduled mid-2016 opening of the expanded Canal, the country’s new Maritime Affairs minister Jorge Barakat, administrator of the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), told delegates at the Seatrade Middle East Maritime conference in Dubai last week.

The country has experienced a surge of investment in recent years, he said, confirming its position as “the main logistics, transport and transhipment hub of the Americas.” Port operators have spent an estimated $3.5bn on new and enlarged facilities, shipping and logistics businesses $2.5bn on extra warehousing, and some $1.4bn is due to be spent on infrastructure upgrades, leading to a forecast 7% boost in national GDP to $52.6bn next year.

“This implies that all companies that are part of the Panamanian maritime cluster will have opportunities to work and grow,” he later told Seatrade Global, “and it also means great opportunities for foreign investors, to which we’re very open.”

At the same time Panama’s flag remains the world’s largest with some 8,138 ships flying its colours, he said. The Registry is already ranked on the White Lists of both the Paris and Tokyo MOUs, and expects entry into the US Coast Guard’s Qualship21 programme this year based on its past three-year performance.

Asked for his response to the parallel expansion plans of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) - and to remarks on both Canals’ pricing policies made by its chairman at the conference the previous day - Barakat replied that the very “dynamic and ever changing” nature of the global shipping market left it “up to countries such as ours to embrace changes and adapt to the needs of the international community. Perhaps this is what Egypt has done.”

However, he was at pains to point out to Seatrade Global that “the Panama Canal Authority always consults with its customers about any increase or change in the pricing structure of the Canal… [with] an Advisory Board comprised of shipowners and top players in the maritime industry that are consulted about this issue.”

“The Canal also opens up to shipowners through public hearings before they make decisions,” he concluded. “I cannot comment on new pricing structures because it is not being discussed at this time, but rest assured the Canal will consult with our customers if that is the case.”  

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