The only constant is change, and as far as the global shipping industry is concerned, the Panama Canal expansion will call for significant change to markets worldwide, and a boon to East Coast American ports. Global container shipping will experience drastic change, as well as port improvements for shipping across North America. The transfer of goods from the West Coast to the East Coast will be perhaps the most impacting of all, as business and industries will gain much benefit from the ease of transportation by ship through this deeper, wider through way. Bringing goods from Asian and West coast manufacturers will raise not only imports but a competitive equilibrium between the coasts.
The government of Panama, spearheading the $5.6 Billion expansion project in 1999 (the U.S. relinquished control to them), provides a much needed third lane and improved locks system for what can best be described as "Aircraft Carrier Sized Vessels" to easily pass through. This will also free up and speed up valuable lane passage for the smaller vessels so common in the Canal. What are now congested and slow-moving will become swift and sure, allowing Asian and West coast trade with East coast partners to become more competitive. This boon was set to occur this year, but is now targeted to open in mid-2015, more than a century after the completion of the Panama Canal project’s origination. Blame the inefficiencies of the Panama government for missing the original Centennial target date for opening.
Some truly remarkable news comes from the East coast of the United States, where shipping port improvements are going strong in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion sending many more ships in their direction. "Post-Panamax" ships, as they are referred, have a draft of 50 feet, and the deeper draft ships that will be able to pass through the Canal and head to East coast harbors have called for a lot of preparation work to ready the ports for their ultimate arrival.
The Port of Miami has contracted with the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge its channels and harbors to a depth of 50 feet. The State of Florida has 15 deep water ports, and work is underway with not only the ports, but truck transportation companies state-wide to ready them for the increased loads headed their way by mid-2015. Jacksonville and Lauderdale ports are discussing terms with the Army Corps of Engineers much in the same line of thinking as did Miami. Dredging their harbors and channels will bring much needed commerce to these ports, among many others. Moreover, the Florida Department of Transportation is working on a tunnel from the Port directly to Interstate 95, that will speed delivery of new goods from the port to warehouses and companies without clogging and disrupting traffic on the small surface roads presently being utilized for existing truck traffic.
Florida and the Port of Miami must have taken a hint from the State of Virginia playbook, who back in 1986 performed its own study and sought permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge its Port of Virginia at Norfolk to 55 feet. The Port of Hampton Roads is one of the few American ports that already has a depth of 50 feet. These two ports stand to gain a tremendous influx of global shipping container business.
As the Panama Canal expansion moves closer to completion, it is easy to see the positive role shipping will play in improving domestic economies, as well as the global shipping industry. For investors, mid-2015 cannot come soon enough.