The expanded Panama Canal is now officially open for business after people from across the globe witnessed history being made on June 26th as a massive neopanamax vessel passed through the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the country and concluded with its transit through the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side en route to Asia.
During the official inauguration ceremony, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge L. Quijano (see photo) spoke to a crowd of more than 25,000 jubilant Panamanians, canal employees, Heads of State and dignitaries from around the world, canal customers, shipping and trade executives and nearly 1,000 journalists. This is the first expansion of the waterway since its original construction.
“Canal users can be assured that we’ll continue to support the Panama Canal Authority and our port operators to provide them a world class service and strengthen our logistics system by creating the necessary incentives and conditions to give added value to our inter-oceanic route,” said President Varela.
“More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future,” said Mr. Quijano speaking to the people of Panama. “It is an honour to announce that what we did, we did it together: providing this great connection to the world. This is the beginning of a new era.”
The US$5.4 billion expansion, initiated in 2007, allows much larger ships to make the 50-mile trip from ocean to ocean. Previously the maximum size of the ship that could make the passage, known in shipping circles as Panamax, was limited by the size of the Canal’s locks and the depth of the water. Building the new locks allows for so-called neo-Panamax ships with a capacity nearly three times (14,000 containers instead of just 5,000) that of Panamax ships to travel the Canal.
Considered and analysed for a decade with more than 100 studies, and approved by more than 75% of Panamanians during a nation-wide referendum, the expansion provides greater economies of scale to global commerce, introducing new routes, liner services and segments (such as liquefied natural gas). In line with its commitment to customer service, the Panama Canal will continue to provide the world with value for another century and beyond.
Commemorating this history in making, we took the opportunity to talk to Her Excellency the Ambassador of Panama, Cristina Liakópulos de Papadikis, on this amazing feat, on her Greek origin and on bilateral relations in general with the Hellenic Republic.
“It is worth underlining that for the year 2016, Panama rose five places in the ranking of the Logistics Performance Index issued every two years by the World Bank, to be positioned 40th in this Index and to be regarded as the country with the greatest competitiveness in Latin America ahead of Chile, Mexico and Brazil.”
GDL: Panama enjoys one of the fastest growing economies in the region. What are your Government’s Priorities in order to continue to grow for the foreseeable future?
CLP: The Government of Panama has determined that the logistics and transport sector is one of the most important pillars of the Panamanian economy. This is complemented by a maritime conglomerate whose main driving force is the Panama Canal and constitutes the vision of the national maritime strategy as a centre which comprises competitive maritime and logistics services of excellence at the service of the merchant marine, ports, auxiliary maritime industry, exports and imports, airports, communications, railways, roads, freight, maritime resources and agricultural industries, thus contributing to the sustainable economic development of the country.
It is worth underlining that for the year 2016, Panama rose five places in the ranking of the Logistics Performance Index issued every two years by the World Bank, to be positioned 40th in this Index and to be regarded as the country with the greatest competitiveness in Latin America ahead of Chile, Mexico and Brazil.
This method of performance analyzes: the efficiency in customs, the quality of infrastructure for transportation and international trade, the quality of logistics services, the facility to ensure international freights at competitive prices, the ability to track merchandise and the punctual delivery to consignees.
“The Canal Expansion will undoubtedly strengthen the logistics competitiveness of the country and will be a great boost to the national economy. In addition to this, great prospects to employment opportunities for Panamanians are foreseen.”
GDL: The recent opening of the expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to double its capacity and unleash a wave of investment to Accommodate Increased Demand. What are the expectations of the Panamanian people?
CLP: The Canal Expansion will undoubtedly strengthen the logistics competitiveness of the country and will be a great boost to the national economy. In addition to this, great prospects to employment opportunities for Panamanians are foreseen.
This is understood in relation to attracting foreign investment that the expansion will generate in the industrial development of the entire national maritime sector, which includes auxiliary services to ships, cargo and crew, as well as work in ports which should increase their capacity in the handling of merchandise.
Therefore, it is estimated that this contribution to the chain of regional and global supply, due to the geographical position of the Panama Canal, will generate thousands of jobs in the industries related to ‘Value-added Logistics Services’.
For general information, the Value-added Logistics Services comprise of a variety of activities related to sending, including traditional storage, cold storage, classification and packaging, packaging, labelling, personalisation, finishing and final assembly. These activities usually occur at the end of the value chain and may be located near a factory, near consumers, or anywhere within the transport chain.
“We must note that Greece has always occupied a preferential place of honour in the interrelations of the national maritime sector, not forgetting that 6% of the Panamanian fleet today is of Greek ownership.”
GDL: Panama and Greece are linked with strong ties, to which maritime affairs played a significant role. In which other areas we can expand this cooperation?
CLP: We must note that Greece has always occupied a preferential place of honour in the interrelations of the national maritime sector, not forgetting that 6% of the Panamanian fleet today is of Greek ownership.
On the other hand, we must place particular emphasis on the existing Bilateral Agreements in force that have been established between Panama and Greece, highlighting the Convention on cooperation in the fields of education and culture, signed in Athens on 18th April 1996 and approved by Law 72 of 30th December 1996. Additionally, we must mention the Agreement on economic and technical cooperation signed in Athens on March 31th 1999 and approved by Law 10 of June 14th 2000.
The aforementioned Agreement of 1999 establishes the commitment to make efforts to develop and strengthen economic and technological cooperation in the fields considered of mutual interest and benefit to both parties, without prejudice to the obligations of Greece as a member of the European Union. These include the sectors of industry, agriculture, construction, transport, banking, insurance and tourism as major areas of economic cooperation.
GDL: Last month, the General Consulate of Panama in Greece inaugurated the Panama Seafarers Bureau, Regional Office, Greece. Can you tell us what led to this decision and what role it will play?
CLP: The General Directorate of Seafarers requested the opening of the Regional Office of Documentation in Piraeus, Greece, mainly based on the current distribution of applications by the Regional Documentation Office; on the quantity of documents which are received on a daily basis; and in order to prevent incidents of human error caused by the volume of applications.
It is for this reason that the viability of the opening of the Regional Documentation Office was studied, which is focused on processing the applications of the General Consulates of Panama in Piraeus, Istanbul, Valencia, Génova, Naples, Venice and Cairo, representing approximately 10% of all applications for seafarers, thus taking advantage of its geographical position to minimise cost and time in the shipments of couriers and as a result to reducing the transit of documentation between the Consulates and the Regional Documentation Offices.
Similarly, the Regional Documentation Office allowed the General Directorate of Seafarers to provide faster, more efficient services and with higher levels of security, focused on providing better service to users, and thus promoting the Panama Registry and expanding our presence in the international shipping market.
“I am very proud to represent my country, Panama, as an Ambassador in the country in which my father was born. My appointment and extended stay in Greece has given me the opportunity to appreciate the warmth, kindness and charm of its people in the way in which I am welcomed and made to feel at home.”
GDL: Your Excellency, as a Panamanian of Greek origin, what are your impressions of your posting here so far?
CLP: I am very proud to represent my country, Panama, as an Ambassador in the country in which my father was born. My appointment and extended stay in Greece has given me the opportunity to appreciate the warmth, kindness and charm of its people in the way in which I am welcomed and made to feel at home.
I have met very competent professionals with great drive and desire to achieve, which makes me feel even prouder of my Greek roots. I recognise that the values that my parents nurtured in me, like family and loyalty, are values that remain in Greece.
I pray to God that I am able to do everything in my power to make my progenitor proud, seeing the result of his efforts and guidance, and that I am allowed the satisfaction of having fulfilled the mission that the Government of Panama has entrusted me with.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life