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Panama Canal turns 100 years old


08-16-2014 19:22 BJT

The Panama Canal turns 100 years old on Saturday. Since it was built a century ago, the canal has transformed international trade. But now the revolutionary trade route is facing new challenges.

It was an audacious idea at the turn of the 20th century - build an 80 kilometer canal across Central America--drastically cutting shipping times and saving fuel costs by avoiding the long haul around South America.

The Panama Canal turns 100 years old on Saturday.

The Panama Canal turns 100 years old on Saturday.

The Panama Canal turns 100 years old on Saturday.

The Panama Canal turns 100 years old on Saturday.

100 years later, - the Panama Canal faces new challenges but remains a strategic passage for international shipping and commerce.

"Here, we’ve been able to manage for a hundred years with the present locks, by incorporating new technology, the Canal today is not the same and it will not be the same in the future," said Jorge Luis Quijiano, Panama Canal Administrator.

More than a million transits later, it is still an important shipping lane, but times--- and ships-- have changed.

Now a five billion dollar expansion project meant to allow larger, more modern vessels to pass has been delayed by labor disputes and cost over-runs - and the canal faces potential competition from a proposed Nicaraguan canal to the north backed by a Chinese investment group.

"We are going forward with this project. We are going to continue pushing ourselves, but we can’t ignore and have always had on our radar what is happening in Nicaragua. Because if it happens, and it’s not going to happen tomorrow, a canal through Nicaragua will definitely compete with the Panama Canal." Jorge said.

When the expansion is completed, the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate so-called Post-Panamax ships carrying two and a half times the cargo of the current limit -- especially important for trade between the United States and China. The project is now expected to be completed in 2015.

The canal contributes about a billion dollars a year to the Panamanian government through transit fees, and much more indirectly to its economy.

"Panama City has the vigor of a world economy, and its tourism is rising. Its trade is impressive, and that is thanks to the canal. Without it Panama would be nothing," said Enrique Leguizam, a Columbia tourist.

The Panama Canal not only makes shipping cheaper, it expands markets for all sorts of perishable items. Bananas from Ecuador arrive fresh in Europe, because the Panama Canal cuts the journey by 13 days.

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