Improving the Panama Canal

Date posted: February 28, 2014

Host Mary Walden asks about the Panama Canal – a major trade route – that is now over 100 years old. The canal is being widened, and the new version is set to open next year.  She asks N.C. State economist Mike Walden, “What will this mean for our economy?”

Mike Walden says, “Well Mary, you’re right. The Panama Canal had not been revised in over a hundred years. Now its width is being increased by 50 percent. This is going to actually triple the size of cargo ships that can pass through the Panama Canal, which means that many of the cargo ships that are now docking on the West Coast and unloading their cargo onto trucks, that cargo being trucked across country, now those ships will be able to come directly to the East Coast.

“And those large ships are going to dock in places like Miami, Charleston, Norfolk and New York. North Carolina though, and incidentally our ports simply aren’t big enough to take these big ships, but North Carolina could benefit I think in three ways.

“One, our ports — Morehead City and Wilmington — could get some spillover of the smaller ships that are now docking at the aforementioned ports.  That is to say, those big ports are going to take the big ships, so the smaller ships are going to have to go somewhere else. Some of them may come to North Carolina. So that would be one positive impact.

“Second positive impact could be the cargo is going to be offloaded and shipped all up and down the East Coast on trucks. Obviously we’re right in the middle of the East Coast so we could see a lot of that traffic and a lot of positive economic benefits from that.

“And then thirdly, and this is just in a talking stage, but some see an opportunity for a new port to be developed in North Carolina — a relatively small port, but a specialized port that would be focused on agriculture. Agricultural products could be put onto those ships at this new specialized port, and then shipped out.  So, I think a lot of exciting things may come specifically to North Carolina from the new and improved Panama Canal.”

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