Port Miami, International Trade, and the Panama Canal Expansion: Another Reason to be Optimistic About South Florida's Economic Future

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The floodgates for unprecedented foreign interest in Florida real estate, especially commercial development, may be opening for Miami and South Florida as many miles to the south of us, the Panama Canal expansion comes closer to completion. Why? Global trade is expected to explode here on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, but particularly here in Miami where anticipation of the impact of a bigger (and wider) Panama Canal meant that Port Miami needed to be ready for change.

The Panama Canal Expansion

What is happening in Panama? Construction began in 2007 to expand the canal so it could serve the newer, bigger ships that move along modern sea routes. Called the "Third Set of Locks Project," this will DOUBLE the Panama Canal's ability to move ships to and from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and it will offer a new traffic lane for today's monster ships -- vessels of a size not envisoned when the Panama Canal was initially designed. This new lane of traffic is a third set of locks, hence the project's name.

It is projected that this expansion of the Panama Canal will build much more trade traffic to ports along the Eastern coastline of the United States. In fact, ports from Baltimore on south have been preparing for the impact of the Panama Canal's Third Set of Locks Project for several years now.

Port Miami Prepares for Over-Panamax and Post-Panamax Ships

Many ships, including all U.S. aircraft carriers, most supertankers that carry oil, and most container ships, are too big to fit through the Panama Canal as it was originally built. In shipping circles, these big vessels are called "Over-Panamax" or "Post-Panamax" and they cannot take advantage of the convenience that the Canal offers in traveling from one ocean to the other, or for trade between Asia and Europe and the Americas and the West African Coast.

These Over-Panamax ships have been around and unable to use the Panama Canal since the mid-1960s, when these big ships and tankers first started being introduced to the seas.

Now, the Port of Miami is in the process of deepening the port by 50 feet and doing other things to accommodate these Post-Panamax vessels.

Right now, the Panama Canal project is behind schedule: it's expected to be completed in 2015. This may be good news for Miami, however, since it gives Port Miami more time to get ready for the dance: the only ports prepared to host the Post-Panamax ships at this point are Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland: Miami can use the time to get its deep water port finished.

Fingers crossed, Port Miami will be ready for Post-Panamax vessels when the Panama Canal Expansion debuts -- and assuming so, Miami is hopeful that given Miami's location as well as its reputation as an international trade mecca will make Port Miami the first stop and preferred U.S. destination for many of those huge trade vessels coming through the Panama Canal in the future.