Panama president's visit marks how Panama Canal expansion cemented Port Houston's global status

Panama president's visit marks how Panama Canal expansion cemented Port Houston's global status

July 15, 2021 / 7:00 AM The president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, visits Port Houston Thursday to mark five years since his country completed the expansion of the Panama Canal, which provided new markets and opportunities for Greater Houston’s industries and cemented the port’s standing as leading center of international trade.

The canal expansion has provided a gateway to fast-growing Asian economies for Houston’s vital energy sector, opening not long after Congress lifted a 40-year ban on crude exports at the end of 2015 and the first shipments on liquefied natural gas left the Gulf Coast in early 2016. After the expansion was completed, the value of Houston energy exports to Asia — excluding chemicals and plastics — more than tripled to nearly $13 billion in 2019, according to Commerce Department data.

The expanded canal, which provides a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific, has also established Houston as a key entryway for consumer and other goods from Asia and allowed the region to challenge the West Coast for the import business. Since 2016, import containers moving through Port Houston from East Asia have grown 63 percent, according to the port. As a result, Houston has become a major distribution hub for retailers such as Walmart, Costco, Dollar Tree, Home Depot and IKEA. Since 2018 about 24 distribution centers have come to Houston, creating an estimated 6,400 new jobs, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

“If you go back a decade or so we virtually had zero container ships,” Roger Guenther, the executive director of Port Houston said. “Most cargo came through the West Coast and came into Texas by rail. (The canal expansion) has been a game changer for Houston.” Trade is a critical component of the local and state economies. Port Houston estimates that trade moving through the Houston Ship Channel generates nearly 1.4 million jobs in Texas and $339 billion in economic activity.

Cortizo Cohen, elected in 2019, is expected to have a round table discussion with Port Houston officials on topics such as the port’s plans to widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate larger ships.


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