How would you evaluate the progress of the PCCP project?
We have to take into account that this project was already structured under a previous owner. Since the buy-out by PCCP, we have been working in three areas: 40ha for the port and terminal; 54ha for the logistics park; and 24ha for the free trade zone (FTZ). The FTZ has already been established, and we are integrating these three areas to create an added-value chain and take advantage of the trading relationship between China and Panama. The total area of the project is around 169ha. We have completed the reclamation stage, which consists of approximately 250,000sqm. The third wharf with a capacity for vessels of 8,000-12,000 tons is currently under construction. In total, the port consists of three wharves; two are for Super/New Panamax vessels of over 18,000 tons. Moreover, there are 11 gantry cranes and 54ha for the logistics and cargo consolidation area. Along with transshipment, our goal for PCCP is to serve the whole American market. This objective is achievable because Landbridge, our parent company, is renowned globally. Through PCCP, we want to add value and are negotiating with various Chinese companies that are interested in using Panama as a hub for their operations. Our third wharf is planned to start operations by 2Q2019. We are pushing our schedule hard because the Chinese president's official visit to Panama is scheduled for December 2019; we are currently slightly ahead of schedule.
What will it mean for the region to have PCCP able to accommodate the new type of Neo-Panamax vessels?
The key differentiating factor in this industry is being able to offer greater productivity, and we are going to use all the latest, state-of-the-art Chinese technology for this project. For example, our provider for gantry cranes is ZMPC, which has captured 90% of the American market. We will also be using the latest RGTs, which are the smaller cranes, as well as the newest information systems. Being able to handle larger amounts of cargo is important because the current trend in shipping is focused on larger volumes.
How much support is your project receiving from the Chinese and Panamanian governments?
Initially, the support we received from the Panamanian state government was because Landbridge bought the project even before a relationship was established with the government. However, we have now benefited, for example, through the input of some qualified technical staff that know how to build a port and serve worldwide shipping markets. Contractually, we are allowed to have at least 800 direct employees in the construction phase of the project. Currently, we have around 190 Panamanian employees working in the company; overall 300 Panamanians have been employed for the port so far. Notably, Chinese history in Panama goes back 164 years, and both countries have played a key role in establishing commercial relations and activities.
What is the main challenge that PCCCP faces?
Cultural barriers have not been easy to overcome; however, it has been deeply inspiring to realize a project that unites two cultures that have been historically and demographically deeply rooted but distracted by unfounded prejudices that today are being mended as a result of the decision to reestablish diplomatic and, therefore, commercial and cultural ties.
What are your goals and priorities at Panama Colón Container Port for the next year?
We want to put our strategy into effect, which is integration. This means creating added value as well as having a clear strategy for the port as a terminal. Our goal is to join all these functions together and start developing the business. This is why we have chosen this location on Margarita Island; there is an international airport just half a mile from PCCP. At the same time, the port has quick access to the railway. This integration is what differentiates us from other ports.