More than 350 attendees, including Indiana Farm Bureau President Randy Kron, had a firsthand look at the new Panama Canal expansion on Monday to kick off events at the U.S. Grains Council 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 Chip Councell, USGC chairman and a grain farmer in Maryland. “Visiting the new locks reflects the long-term commitment of the Council and its members to enable more and expanded trade opportunities for American agriculture.”
Before the tour, meeting attendees in a general session were welcomed to the region by USGC Western Hemisphere Regional Director Marri Carrow and Erik Hansen, agricultural counselor at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica. They also witnessed Councell and Manuel Benitez, Panama Canal deputy administrator, sign a formal memorandum of understanding 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 United States, including roughly one-third of total U.S. grain exports, Benitez told the crowd. The new set of locks will open opportunities for larger and more efficient shipments of all products. Delegates and members continued meetings Tuesday to trade perspectives on the grain market and set strategy for the organization’s work. USGC committees, known as Advisory Teams, had full-day meetings on Tuesday, and the organization’s Board of Delegates will hold a business meeting on Wednesday.