Local business leaders headed to Panama on trade mission

Local business leaders are hoping to strengthen ties with Panama and will lead a trade mission to the Central American region this week.

With the Panama Canal being widened, so-called mega ships will be able to bring 14,000 containers of freight at a time to this country. Local leaders hope to bring more of that business up the Mississippi River.

The trade mission is being organized by GNO Inc. A diverse group of industries are participating in the trip, including representatives from the banking, tourism, technology industries as well as the international trade sector.

The group will visit the Panama Canal expansion site, meet with Panamanian business leaders from multiple sectors including infrastructure development, financial services, tourism, renewable energy, and technology, and network with key business leaders.

“I think we’re going back to the future,” said Michael Hecht, the president and chief executive officer of GNO Inc. “The past of New Orleans was about South America, it was about United Fruit, it was about our relationships a place like Honduras and Panama and now we’re really restarting those relationships.”

It comes in the midst of the widening of the Panama Canal, a project that started back in 2006. The 100-year old canal is being doubled in size which will allow larger ships, carrying up to 14,000 containers of freight, to pass through it.

As a direct result of that expansion, state leaders recently announced the building of America’s first offshore mega port. It will be built at the mouth of the Mississippi River and will be able to handle cargo destined for about two-thirds of the nation.

“The big ships come to our hub, and unload onto smaller ships, sometimes called brown-blue water ships, that navigate all the way up the Mississippi, even into the Ohio River,” said Tom Thornhill, port co-manager.

At the same time Copa Airlines has begun non-stop service between Panama and New Orleans. Hecht believes all of these components will reconnect New Orleans to a prosperous past with South America.

“The closer our business relationships are with the canal, with businesses in Panama City which is becoming almost the Dubai of Central America, the hub of finance, the hub of trade, I think that’s only going to help us here in southern Louisiana,” Hecht said.

The widened Panama Canal is slated to be open by next year. Work on the Mississippi River mega port is expected to begin in August 2016 and could take up to five years to complete.

Read the full article here: http://www.wwltv.com/story/news/2015/09/13/local-business-leaders-headed-to-panama-on-trade-mission/72202376/