More than 350 attendees had a firsthand look at the new Panama Canal expansion on Monday to kick off events at the U.S. Grains Council's (USGC) 14th International Marketing Conference & 57th Annual Membership Meeting in Panama City, Panama.
The tour of the Agua Clara locks in Colon, Panama, was a unique opportunity to see trade in action and an important reminder of the dynamic global trade environment for those who last visited the Canal shortly after construction on the new locks began.
“When USGC last met in Panama, the canal expansion was only a construction site,” said USGC chairman Chip Councell, a grain farmer in Maryland. “Visiting the new locks reflects the long-term commitment of the council and its members to enabling more and expanded trade opportunities for American agriculture.”
Before the tour, meeting attendees in a general session were welcomed to the region by Marri Carrow, USGC Western Hemisphere regional director, and Erik Hansen, agricultural counselor at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica.
They also witnessed Councell and Panama Canal deputy administrator Manuel Benitez sign a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two organizations on the importance of the Panama Canal to U.S. grain trade.
Benitez offered the farmers, agribusiness representatives and others in the audience an extensive briefing on the Panama Canal expansion, which opened on June 30, 2016.
Sixty-nine percent of all cargo traveling through the Panama Canal originates from or is destined for the U.S., including roughly one-third of total U.S. grain exports, Benitez told the crowd. The new set of locks will open up opportunities for larger and more efficient shipments of all products.
Delegates and members continued meetings Tuesday to swap perspectives on the grain market and set strategy for the organization's work. USGC committees, known as advisory teams, and the board of delegates held business meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Delegates will also have the opportunity to visit the Miraflores locks, where ships cross below the Bridge of the Americas that connects North and South America.