Inland ports eye new Panama Canal business

Several inland ports are taking some very proactive steps to get ready for an increase in business after the Panama Canal expansion is complete in 2014.

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Port of Gulfport, Miss., recently signed agreements with the Panama Canal Authority to foster economic growth, encourage international trade, and promote the concept of the “All-Water Route” from Asia to the U.S. East and Gulf coasts via the Panama Canal.

They join other Gulf and East Coast ports from Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which have already signed agreements with canal authority.

These agreements allow for joint marketing ventures, information sharing and technological interchange, and the eventual linkage with goods shipped through the expanded canal.

One goal of these partnerships is to make sure that the U.S. inland waterway system is recognized as part of the new and improved route, according to Tenn-Tom administrator Michael D. Tagert. “We are pleased that the canal authority, such a major component of the global supply chain system, recognizes the value and potential of the inland waterway system,” he said.

These are all excellent initiatives, and great examples of forward thinking on the part of waterway and ports administrators to get ahead of the curve. It also highlights the heated competition that is underway among U.S. ports to secure a slice of this potential new business.

But getting ready means more than just signing papers. It also means getting ports prepared to handle the bigger ships that will call, mostly from Asia. Ports will need some big bucks to add new cranes and terminals to accommodate the new business. Port dredging in many locales will also be needed. Committing millions of dollars for improvements isn’t easy in a down economy, and scoring funds from Washington is even more problematic. In fact the Port of Savannah, Ga., recently said it has fallen behind in its race to deepen its shipping channel due to delays in a government study on the project and concerns about funding.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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