Port of Gulfport & Panama Canal Authority form partnership

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The state Port of Gulfport and the Panama Canal Authority have signed an agreement to market and promote an "all water route" between the two ports to increase economic growth and international trade.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Port Authority at Gulfport Executive Director Donald Allee participated in a signing ceremony Monday with Panama Canal Authority Administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta in Panama City.

Barbour said the Memorandum of Understanding signed Monday includes marketing ventures, information sharing and technological exchange and promote "all-water route" from Asia to the U.S. East and Gulf coasts by way of the Panama Canal. In 2009, Panama was Mississippi's third largest trading partner, in terms of exports, after Canada and Mexico.

"Maritime commerce is vital to Mississippi's economy, and the expansion of the Panama Canal provides the state with considerable opportunities for increased trade and worldwide shipping," said Governor Barbour. "Through the partnership with the Panama Canal Authority, the Port of Gulfport will be able to offer even more businesses quick, affordable access to nearly three-quarters of American consumers. Our nation's ports are over capacity, and the current restoration of the Port of Gulfport will accommodate increased container traffic that will be entering the U.S. as a result of the Panama Canal expansion."

During an official ceremony, the Panama Canal Authority and the Mississippi State Port Authority affirmed their commitment to mutual growth and cooperation. Renewable after five years, the first-ever agreement will allow for joint marketing ventures, information sharing and technological exchange.

"Today's MOU signing represents a great opportunity for Panama and Mississippi to build upon our existing offerings and trade relationship through a mutually beneficial alliance," said Alemán Zubieta. "One of the primary tenets of the ACP is to continually look for creative approaches to boost trade flows and provide safe, reliable and efficient service to the international maritime community. This agreement is one way that we can help achieve this goal."

"For four decades, the Mississippi State Port Authority has focused on growth prospects in the Western Hemisphere, but the expanded Panama Canal will afford the Port of Gulfport new opportunities to be more competitive in shipping between North America and both Asia and the West Coast of South America," said Allee. "This agreement between the MSPA and the ACP will provide a framework for our two entities to work together to pursue new business opportunities that will result from an expanded Panama Canal."

The Panama Canal is currently undergoing its historic $5.25 billion expansion project which will double the waterway's capacity and build a new lane of traffic through the construction of a new set of locks. Scheduled for completion in 2014, the project will allow more ships and the passage of longer and wider vessels through the Canal.

Receiving $570 million in federal Community Development Block grants for restoration projects, the MSPA continues to refurbish the Port from Hurricane Katrina damage. Development plans include elevating the Port's West Pier to 25 feet above sea level, returning to pre-Katrina storage capacities and preparing for increased operations once the Panama Canal expansion project is completed.

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