October 16, 2019
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Panama Canal optimistic after China gets reprieve on US tariffs

Panama City, Aug 14 (efe-epa).-The Panama Canal on Wednesday applauded the United States government's decision to postpone new tariffs on a range of Chinese goods until December, saying that move will allow the interoceanic waterway to post strong results in the final months of 2019.

"The delay (in imposing the new tariffs) gives us the chance for a good start to the (next) fiscal year, which begins in October, and for a very good finish to this year," the chief administrator of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), Jorge Luis Quijano, told reporters.

The White House said Tuesday it will hold off until Dec. 15 on imposing 10 percent tariffs on certain products imported from China, including smartphones, laptops, videogames and toys.

Some Chinese products, however, still will be subject to the new 10 percent tariffs starting on Sept. 1, including live animals, dairy products, contact lenses, motorcycle engines and lithium-ion batteries.

US President Donald Trump threatened on Aug. 1 - after little progress had been made in the latest bilateral talks aimed at ending a more than year-long trade spat - to impose 10 percent tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese goods that still are not subject to levies.

Those proposed tariffs would be in addition to 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports that began to be imposed in July of last year.

China, for its part, has retaliated by imposing tariffs on roughly $110 billion worth of US goods.

Quijano said September and October typically are the busiest months in terms of ship traffic, with a particularly large number of container ships carrying Chinese products to the Americas ahead of the Christmas holidays.

"The last ships of the Christmas campaign should be passing through here in late October at the latest so the merchandise can be distributed," said Quijano, who will step down on Sept. 4 after seven years at the helm of the ACP and be replaced by Ricaurte Vasquez, who previously held several management positions in the canal and was Panama's finance minister during the 2004 to 2009 presidency of Martin Torrijos.

Some experts said the decision to delay the tariffs reflects growing US concerns about the impact of the trade war with China on the American economy.

"There's a lot of movement of merchandise to the United States. Seeing what's coming and going (through the canal), we can say that (it seems) the United States is exporting less that what China is doing," Quijano said.

The PCA chief added that the tariff tensions have had a minimal impact on the Panama Canal, which handles 6 percent of global trade and is forecasting toll revenue in fiscal year 2019 of $2.5 billion.

"It's not that the Panama Canal has lost money. It's that it's missed out on earning more money and (that) we could have earned $30 million more," he said.

The US, which built the canal and operated it until 1999, is the main user of the interoceanic waterway followed by Japan, which recently leapfrogged China because Beijing's tariffs on US liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) have caused shipments of those fuels to China to grind to a halt.

A recent expansion project that added a new set of locks (the devices used to raise and lower ships) and opened in June 2016 has enabled the waterway to handle so-called Neopanamax vessels.

Those ships include vessels that carry up to 13,000 20-foot-long containers and are triple the size of the previous generation of Panamax vessels.

The canal also now can provide service to LNG carriers and other giant bulk vessels. EFE-EPA

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