US concern over Panama Canal expansion

Panama Canal The widening and deepening of the Panama Canal should be completed in 2014

Business, labour and public officials fear expansion of the Panama Canal could cut cargo business by a quarter at the twin Los Angeles-Long Beach ports, which currently handle 40% of the nation's imported Asian cargo.

The widening and deepening of the Panama Canal, which will be completed in 2014, will allow huge freighters to bypass West Coast ports and head directly to terminals on the Gulf and East coasts. The biggest ships that can squeeze through the Panama Canal currently carry 4,400 to 5,000 containers. The widening project will allow ships with 12,600 containers.

The Los Angeles Times has already reported that there are concerns the region's role in international trade is at stake.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex is the nation's biggest and the world's sixth busiest. Cargo movement employs more than 500,000 people, directly or indirectly, in Southern California. The ports, neighbouring cities and railroads plan improvements in an effort to keep the region competitive, including plans to speed loading of cargo onto trains, eliminate bottlenecks and increasing capacity. But opposition from some residents, environmental groups and others could jeopardise those efforts - according to a coalition of business, labour and government that calls itself the Jobs 1st Alliance.

Two Long Beach City Council members, for instance, moved to block construction of a new railroad freight complex near the ports because of fears it would increase pollution and force relocation of small businesses. The coalition said the rail projects and other improvements are crucial to luring regional trade. The coalition has also started a Beat the Canal campaign, using Facebook and a website in its mission to get faster action and fight environmental reviews.