USGC Panama Canal MOU signing
Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator for the Panama Canal, and Chip Councell, chairman of the USGC, sign a MOU about U.S. trade through the Panama Canal. 
Photo courtesy of USGC.

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and the Panama Canal Administration signed a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) about the importance of the Panama Canal to U.S. grain trade, during the USGC 14th International Marketing Conference & 57th Annual Membership Meeting in Panama City, Panama.

According to the USGC, 69% of all cargo traveling through the Panama Canal originates from or is destined for the United States, including roughly one-third of total U.S. grain exports, Manuel Benitez , deputy administrator for the Panama Canal, told the crowd. The new set of locks will open opportunities for larger and more efficient shipments of all products.

On Feb. 13 more than 350 conference attendees had a firsthand look at the new Panama Canal expansion, which opened on June 26, 2016.

“When USGC last met in Panama, the canal expansion was only a construction site,” said Chip Councell, chairman of the USGC. “Visiting the new locks reflects the long-term commitment of the council and its members to enabling more and expanded trade opportunities for American agriculture.”

In 2006, more than 75% of Panamanians approved the Panama Canal expansion program project in a nation-wide referendum, and, in 2007, construction began. Construction included new locks on the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and dredging of more than 150 million cubic meters of material, creating a second lane of traffic along the canal, and doubling the capacity of the seaway. The new locks, which cost $2.75 million, are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than previous locks, but use less water due to the recycling of 60% of the water used in each lockage.

Panamax ships, which have a draft of 39.5 feet or less, are currently the largest ships that can pass through the canal. Due to the expansion, ships with a draft of up to 50 feet are now able to pass.