Panama Canal warns of increases in toll prices
A senior official of the Panama Canal Authority has warned of increases in toll prices ahead of the planned $8-billion expansion of the canal.
“A major canal expansion will require, for its economic feasibility, a closer alignment between our prices and the actual value of services rendered,” Dr. Ricaurte Vasquez M., deputy administrator of the Panama Canal Authority. Vasquez told the Terminal Operators Conference that current canal tolls were “not aligned with the current value of the service,” and that changes in pricing would provide an adequate repayment of future debt and a reasonable return on capital.
The Panama Canal Authority is already raising prices this year.
It is considering plans to build a third set of locks to allow transit through the canal for wider vessels, at an estimated cost of $8 billion.
About four percent of the world’s maritime trade flows through the Panama waterway, with the two-thirds of the cargo moved through the canal having the United States as its origin or destination.
During the fiscal year 2003, containership traffic through the canal increased 22 percent in tonnage, reaching 2,369 transits and $220.5 million in revenues.
“The increasing share of Chinese exports and the physical limitations of the intermodal system [in North America] have provided a major impulse to the ‘all-water route’ via the Panama canal,” Vasquez said.
“As current growth outpaces capacity improvements, the system, terminals — and the Panama canal alike — are under severe pressure to keep up with the business,” he noted. He added that the canal authority’s decisions, particularly on a third set of locks, will have “major consequences on the volumes that could be calling on the East Coast ports.”
Current studies by the Panama Canal Authority are under way, based on a design allowing the transit of ships of 427 meters in length, 61 meters in width and 15.2 meters of draft. The authority has witnessed the trend toward large containerships of 8,000 TEUs, but the current canal dimensions do not allow the transit of vessels of more than about 5,000 TEUs in capacity.
“Locks designs will reflect our perception of the customer base of the future, as well as the shape and size of the world’s fleet that will be expected to transit the Panama canal,” V'squez said.
Under Panama’s constitution, a decision on a third set of locks will require a referendum. V'squez said a referendum would take 12 to 18 months to execute, before work on new canal locks could start.