In Washington D.C. on Monday Alberto Alemán Zubieta, chief executive officer of the Panama Canal Authority participated in an event hosted by the Soybean Transportation Coalition and sponsored by the United Soybean Board. Zubieta addressed those in attendance emphasizing the importance of the Panama Canal to U.S. agricultural exports. Following remarks he signed a Memorandum of Understanding that calls for the STC and ACP to share information, promotion efforts and educational events as the Panama Canal expansion program continues. Currently a $5.25 billion dollar expansion of the canal is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
"This major expansion would basically double the capacity of the Panama Canal," said former USB chairman Phil Bradshaw. "What we're emphasizing is the need for upgrading our infrastructure; we need to upgrade our elevators, our local roads and highways and our rivers so we can take full advantage of the Panama Canal when it's expansion is opened in 2014."
The big benefit to the U.S. soybean industry of the expansion is shipping to Asia. Over one-fourth of the soybeans raised in the U.S. are sold to China, with nearly half of them going through the Panama Canal. Japan is the fourth largest purchaser of U.S. soybeans and over half of their imports travel through the Panama Canal. Zubieta also said that the amount of U.S. corn that travels through the canal is about equal to soybeans.
"So it makes it imperative that we do everything we can to have our infrastructure capable of fully utilizing the upgrading of the canal when it is completed in 2014," Bradshaw said. "Otherwise we are going to be at a competitive disadvantage simply because of transportation costs."
The Memorandum of Understanding says that the U.S. and Panama will work together to make sure that in the future the transportation of soybeans through the canal is the most efficient and most convenient for everyone to handle.
"So what we're really looking at is if there is something we can do here to make it more productive and easier for them to get the beans through there," Bradshaw said. "Whatever we can do to improve the efficiency of moving our soybeans from my farm and the other 600,000 soybean farmers through the canal and to our markets in Asia will ultimately bring farmers more money for their soybeans."