Quel Panama was an expression used in France at the beginning of the last century to describe an unsolvable muddle. It became popular after Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps attempted – but failed catastrophically – to dig the Panama Canal after his success with the Suez Canal.
Given the stand-off that has brought work to expand the canal to a near halt, it’s an expression that would well be in vogue again. But after weeks of wrangling the Panama Canal Authority and the construction consortium working on one of the world’s great trade conduits have shaken hands in a deal aimed at finishing the project by the end of next year.
Stop press: the two sides wrangling over who should foot the bill for $1.6bn cost overruns in the building of new locks as part of the Panama Canal’s $5.2bn expansion are talking – days after a deadline set by the Spanish-led construction consortium to down tools came and went.
But neither the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) nor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the Spanish-led consortium in charge of the $3.2bn lock project, would say what they were talking about.
Fernando Núñez Fábrega, Panama’s foreign minister, is on a trip to Britain this week. The point of the visit is to sign his country’s 25th double taxation treaty. But he is likely to find people more interested in his views on Chinese plans to build a rival to Panama’s canal in another Central American nation. So, before he left, beyondbrics asked him what he thought.
Nicaragua’s Congress recently granted a 50-year concession to a little-known Chinese businessman to develop a new waterway that will rival the Panama Canal. The FT’s Kathrin Hille sits down with Wang Jing, founder and chief executive of HKND, to talk about his plans and whether his $40bn project is a way for the Chinese government’s ambitions to extend its influence.
Wang with Ortega
Since Nicaragua decided this month to allow a little-known Chinese-backed company to cut the country in two with a new waterway rivalling the Panama Canal, curiosity has been building.
Who is Wang Jing , the man behind the US$40bn project? So far, the public only knows that Wang chairs HKND, the newly-registered group that received the 50-year concession, and that he is also chief executive of Xinwei, a telecom equipment maker in Beijing.
The Panama Canal was once christened “one of the world’s greatest labour mobilisations.” Almost a hundred years after its inauguration, that monumental public work is still boosting the country’s economy.
The narrow nation will grow three times Latin America’s average of 3.1 per cent this year. According to the latest report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, Panama’s economy is expected to expand by 10.5 per cent in 2012. Last year, the country grew 10.8 per cent.
Nicaragua may be a small and very poor country but its president, Daniel Ortega, certainly thinks big.
His latest proposal is to build a canal that would be similar to Panama’s at an estimated cost of $30bn – about four times as much as Nicaragua’s gross domestic product. The project is awaiting appraisal by the nation’s legislature.