Forum to examine possible expansion of Panama Canal

LONG BEACH - Point/Counterpoint, a new educational forum from the Center for International Trade and Transportation (CITT) at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), will hold its inaugural event on Oct. 6, from 6-8:30 p.m. in the campus' Carpenter Performing Arts Center.The event, which is free and open to the public, is titled "Panama Canal Expansion: The Battle for Jobs and Cargo. Who Wins? Who Loses? Who Decides?" It will bring together scholars as well industry experts and leaders to review the facts surrounding the canal's expansion and offer their unique perspectives, as well as challenge existing assumptions concerning implications for West Coast ports, cargo volume and jobs. To help bring clarity to the debate, Point/Counterpoint has scheduled a pair of speakers with knowledge of both the Panama Canal expansion and the shipping industry in general -Paul Bingham from Wilbur Smith Associates in Virginia, and Mary Brooks from Canada's Dalhousie University in Halifax. "The Panama Canal expansion is one of those issues that everybody talks about, yet nobody is clear on the implications for the Southern California ports," said Marianne Venieris, executive director for CITT. "When the expanded canal opens, importers will have to be aware of other trends that are emerging that could threaten cargo growth through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. On the other hand, some of these trends could end up favoring west coast ports." The expanded Panama Canal is scheduled for opening in 2014, which coincides with the canal's 100th anniversary. The expansion will result in the construction of two new sets of locks - one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the canal. The expansion also entails the widening and deepening of existing navigational channels. The improvements will make it possible for ships to take significantly larger loads through the canal from East Asia to U.S. gulf ports and ports along the Eastern Seaboard, which could impact West Coast port activity. "The issue is how much of an advantage does the Panama Canal give shippers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot in getting their goods to their final destinations," Venieris explained. "It's important for our ports because if there are no containers coming in, there's no business and then there's no money. It's not only the ports that will be affected, but also the railroads, trucking, warehouses… pretty much all businesses involved in international trade." Point/Counterpoint, which Venieris hopes will become a regular event, is a follow-up to the popular annual CITT Town Hall meetings, which concluded in 2009 after a successful 10-year run. In the town hall meetings, experts were brought in to give their perspective on a specific topic and then answer questions. The Point/Counterpoint series differs in that it deals with a pertinent issue of current interest to the goods movement industry where there are opposing opinions and better information would bring more clarity. "Generally, a point and counterpoint discussion is like a debate. However, the CITT Point/Counterpoint series is an educational forum and the desired outcome is not to have a winner or loser of the debate, but rather to gain salient information from all angles," Venieris pointed out. "We'll start with one perspective that draws from larger macro-economic trends and one that considers the factors that drive decision-makers for individual shippers." For the industry and the community, good information matters. "A shipper needs to be aware of all of the factors that might influence price and transport time and reliability," said Venieris. "Additionally, we want to make sure the community understands what's in it for them, good or bad. "If the goods don't come through our ports, some might say that's good because there will be less traffic, but it also means fewer jobs." For more information, visit www.ccpe.csulb.edu/citt, call 562/985-2872, or email Point-Counterpoint@ccpe.csulb.edu.

********** Published: September 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 23