Waiting for Bigger Ships to Come In
The shipping industry has long anticipated the ramifications of an expanded Panama Canal capable of accommodating higher volume and larger ships. Finally, after $5.4 billion in costs and more than two years in delays, the first “Neo Panamax” ship traveled through the Panama Canal’s third lock on June 26, 2016.
And the world didn’t change. At least not right away.
Not that anyone expected immediate, dramatic change. Realistically, the full impact of the Panama Canal’s new third lock is unlikely to be felt for years. But after nearly a decade of preparation and billions of dollars of investments in port facility upgrades, the momentous event had a somewhat anti-climactic feel.
Though the Canal expansion’s debut has come and gone, many questions remain. Will it ever deliver on its promise to the port cities that scrambled to accommodate the bigger ships that can now traverse the Canal and more easily access the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports from Asia? If so, which U.S. ports will benefit and which will suffer? Will some ports, notably those on the West Coast and on inland waterways, lose foreign trade volume? And finally, how will all of this affect the commercial/industrial sector in U.S. coastal cities and beyond?
The Gulf Coast ports range from Key West, Florida to Houston, Texas (8th) and New Orleans, Louisiana (22nd). These are the only two U.S Gulf ports among the North America Top 25 in container volume of foreign trade, though Mobile, Alabama, and Gulf Port, Mississippi, are also major ports in the region.