Bids due for Corozal port
by Eric Jackson
After many delays and politically forced revisions that kept the Motta family and others out of the running, bids are due to be presented to the Panama Canal Authority by those prequalified companies that want to build and run a seaport at Corozal and Diablo. The companies that will be allowed to submit bids — and some of them may not — are two Dutch enterprises, APM Terminals BV and Terminal Investment Limited SA, the French Terminal Link and the partially Singaporean state-owned PSA International Pte Ltd. The latter currently runs a small port facility on the west side of the canal, just north of the old US naval station at Rodman.
Worldwide port business has its ups and downs, in the context of a global shipping industry that’s well over capacity. Panama’s current local problems are largely those of Northern South America, for which we are a transportation hub and wholesaling and warehousing center. Low oil prices have collapsed Venezuela’s economy and weakened those of Brazil and Ecuador, cutting their demand for things coming through the Panama Canal or sold at our duty-free import and export zones.
(One rarely reads about the woes of Panama’s ports and duty-free zones in the worldwide English-language press these days. Google News in particular has set its algorithms to play up this idyllic view of and “invest NOW!” hype about the Panamanian economy, such that made-up stuff by International Living and its ilk takes precedence over day-to-day facts that are commonplace in the Panamanian media. Would-be investors in Panama should be careful, do their due diligence in Spanish as well as English and dig deeper than Google searches.)
If, led by the United States, countries insist upon the manufacturing of things for their markets within the country, that would have a negative effect on worldwide shipping. There are new rail and Arctic routes coming, and possibly a canal through Nicaragua, which will add competition to the Panama Canal. We don’t know what emerging manufacturing and energy technologies bode for the Panama Canal over the long term. Thus investment in a new port in Panama is a risky bet.
And why is the Panama Canal Authority doing this, rather than the Panama Maritime Authority that has until now had dibs of the port business? There can be and are various sinister theories about political racketeers angling for pieces of the action, but the more obvious thing is that the usage and revenue projections that the ACP made a decade ago were way too optimistic and the canal authority is now looking for new sources of revenue besides the tolls that ships pay to pass through the waterway.
The bids are due at 3:00 p.m. on March 3, said deadline having been moved back several times. Then there will be evaluations and decisions about which, if any, of the bids will be accepted. It may be down to a single bidder, or no bidder, or bids lower than the ACP would accept.
Beyond that, the pending lawsuits related to this port project — for compensation by people whose Diablo boat sheds were taken, by residents of Diablo trying to fend off eminent domain, by people and organizations with constitutional objections to an expanded ACP role in Panama’s economy, by companies that were excluded from bidding on the port project, by Panama Ports that does not want the competition and so on — have proliferated and now approach two dozen. Plus the legislature has not yet approved a new ports concession and may move to block it. There are also people in the ACP and Ministry of Canal Affairs who may be affected by the Odebrecht and Moncada Luna corruption scandals. Meanwhile, litigation related to the lowball bid accepted by the ACP for the construction of the new locks has yet to run its course.
Thus the Port of Corozal project advances, but with tentative steps.
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