For more than a century the geographically appealing idea of a canal through Nicaragua has been dismissed for its price tag and impact. However on June 14th Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega signed a 50 year concession with Chinese Telecom magnate Wang Jing to construct a canal connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific via Lake Nicaragua. If built, this $40 billion project will be three times the size of the Panama Canal and run through South America’s largest freshwater lake. A somewhat ambiguous figure, Jing is not known to have any future experience with international infrastructure but is the chairman of 20 enterprises that operate business in 35 countries. He says world trade is in need of a new canal, and with his highly interested global investors work should begin on the project in 2014.
The northwest is already facing increased competition for cargo from the expansion of the Panama Canal that is planned to be completed in 2015. Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant says the addition of a second canal in Nicaragua is going to amplify competition even further and steal away import cargo that is now moving through Washington State. Investments will need to be made in Washington ports in order to preserve relationships with major customers and keep increasing competitiveness; Bryant says the announcement of the Nicaraguan canal should spur investments in infrastructure in the Puget Sound. There is ample skepticism and environmental criticism of Wang Jing’s goal, but if it is completed as planned it will have a significant impact on Puget Sound’s global and national maritime transport industry.