I don't know where commentator Gene E. Bigler got the idea that Panama is handling eight million containers "mostly to U.S. consumers this year" ("Panama Canal expansion critical to the U.S.," March 18).
The canal expansion project will have only a minor impact on existing container traffic to Baltimore from Asian nations. Traffic that originates in Hong Kong and ports to its south will continue to use Suez via Maersk Line and other carriers sailing container ships that are already too large to transit the new locks in Panama.
Time sensitive containers will continue to use West Coast ports and unit trains to serve the Baltimore-Washington region and other East Coast destinations. For container traffic, the Panama Canal improvements in 2016 will be a Y2K event. Keep in mind that no one yet knows what rates Panama will have to charge to pay for this $7 billion project.
As Mr. Bigler points out, the Panamanians have done a good job for conventional bulk and breakbulk shipping. But none of the "Panamax" container ship routes or lines were particularly profitable. About 100 of those container vessels are now in lay-up or on the way to the scrap yards before their time.
Gulf ports will eventually benefit from LNG exports via Panama (if permitted to transit at a reasonable price). Taxpayers owe former President Jimmy Carter a $7 billion debt of gratitude for giving the canal back to Panama.
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