Nicaragua gives Chinese firm contract to build alternative to Panama Canal
Project will reinforce China's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over a key shipping route
Jonathan Watts and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 June 2013 12.41 EDT
Nicaragua has awarded a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal, in a step that looks set to have profound geopolitical ramifications.
The president of the country's national assembly, Rene Nuñez, announced the $40bn (£26bn) project, which will reinforce Beijing's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The name of the company and other details have yet to be released, but the opposition congressman Luis Callejas said the government planned to grant a 100-year lease to the Chinese operator.
The national assembly will debate two bills on the project, including an outline for an environmental impact assessment, on Friday.
The new route will be a higher-capacity alternative to the 99-year-old Panama Canal, which is currently being widened at the cost of $5.2bn.
Last year, the Nicaraguan government noted that the new canal should be able to allow passage for mega-container ships with a dead weight of up to 250,000 tonnes. This is more than double the size of the vessels that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal after its expansion, it said.
According to a bill submitted to congress last year, Nicaragua's canal will be 22 metres deep and 286 km (178 miles) long - bigger than Panama and Suez in all dimensions
Under the initial plans for the project, the government was expected to be the majority shareholder, with construction taking 10 years and the first ship passing through the canal within six years. It is unclear if this is still the case.
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