News / Economy

Talks Break Down in Panama Canal Contract Dispute

Idle cranes are seen during an organized tour by Panama Canal authorities to the construction site of the Panama Canal Expansion project on the Pacific side in Panama City, Feb. 5, 2014.
Idle cranes are seen during an organized tour by Panama Canal authorities to the construction site of the Panama Canal Expansion project on the Pacific side in Panama City, Feb. 5, 2014.
Reuters
A planned extension of the Panama Canal, one of the world's most important shipping routes, was thrown into doubt on Wednesday after a group of companies said its talks with Panama's government over how to expand the canal had fallen apart.

Group United for the Canal, a consortium led by Spanish builder Sacyr, said in a statement that the government's canal authority had broken off talks on who will pay some $1.6 billion needed to complete the ambitious project.

The breakdown in talks is the latest setback to a project mired in disputes since the consortium, which also includes Italy's Salini Impregilo as well as a Belgian and Panamanian firm, won a bid to double the capacity of the near 50-mile (80 km) transoceanic cargo route.

Disagreements over cost overruns have already reached international courts and talks between the two sides over how to find the additional cash to finish the project had already been extended twice.

It was unclear whether Wednesday's breakdown was final.

In its statement, GUPC - the Spanish acronym by which the consortium is known - said the failure of the talks meant the expansion and up to 10,000 local jobs were at immediate risk. But the company said it was still seeking a solution for completion of the project, which had been scheduled for 2015.

If the partnership between Panama and the builders is indeed abandoned, it would likely mean further delays while Panama seeks financing and a new construction group.

That in turn, would be a setback for companies worldwide eager to move larger ships through the Panama Canal, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers who want to ship exports from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian markets. Delays could also cost Panama millions of dollars in projected revenue from toll charges.

Last month, Panama President Ricardo Martinelli said that Panama had the resources to complete the expansion of the Canal even if talks with GUPC ended.

"We will finish the Canal in 2015 no matter what happens, rain, thunder or lightening," Martinelli told an audience of international investors and executives gathered in Davos, Switzerland. He did not give details as to who would pick up the work or the tab.

Shares in Sacyr plunged over 8 percent on the news before recovering some lost ground while Salini Impregilo fell 1.9 percent.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Panama already had a plan B," said a Madrid-based trader who asked not to be named. "As for Sacyr...they'll push forward with new contracts, but everything they do will be looked at with a magnifying glass from now on."

Money Runs Out

Disputes over the expansion of the Canal set in almost immediately after GUPC won the bid in 2009. At the time, officials and diplomats expressed concerns over the consortium's ability to complete the project since its requested tab was $1 billion lower than the nearest competitor.

Over the past months, the two sides had been discussing how to fund the $1.6 billion needed to complete the project through a co-financing deal. Disputes about liabilities for the cost overruns, which tally with the amount the consortium say it will cost to finish the work, are being fought out within the terms of the contract and may end up in international arbitration courts.

Spain's public works minister flew out to Panama earlier in the year to mediate talks while the European Commissioner for Industry Antonio Tajani had also offered to mediate negotiations, an offer rejected by the Panamanians.

In its Wednesday statement, the Spanish-led consortium said the Panama Canal Authority had broken off the latest talks, but it did not spell out why. The GUPC said that, in its latest proposal, it had offered $800 million in new and existing funds, while asking the Panama Canal to put in $100 million in funds.

It also asked the Canal to extend the deadline by which the consortium needs to return $785 million in advance payments made by the Canal in order to free up cash.

"It is unjust and impossible for the PCA and Panama to expect that private companies will finance $1.6 billion in costs on a project that was to be fully funded by PCA," the consortium said in the statement.

It said the Panama Canal had not paid a pending $50 million invoice that had meant to cover salaries this week for subcontractors and workers.

"Without an immediate resolution, Panama and the PCA face years of disputes before national and international tribunals over their steps that have pushed the project to the brink of failure," the consortium added.

For Sacyr, which has 48 percent of the consortium, the work brings in a quarter of its international revenue. Like most Spanish builders, the company relies heavily on foreign orders to offset a sharp economic downturn at home.

Sacyr has provided 476 million euros in cash advances and guarantees to the project. One analyst said this was the worst-case scenario in terms of what losing the project would mean for the builder.

"But the actual impact will only be determined after several years in the courts if there is no final agreement," said Juan Carlos Calvo, analyst at Espirito Santo, adding that losing the contract would not represent a cash outflow for Sacyr as it affected cash advances already paid.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8930
JPY
USD
117.98
GBP
USD
0.6673
CAD
USD
1.2445
INR
USD
61.498

Rates may not be current.