Since 2000, Panama has seen substantial investments in port infrastructure. The sustained growth of Manzanillo International Terminal, Cristobal, Balboa, and Colon Container Terminal provides testimony to the success of these investments. The presence of Global Container Terminal operators such as Hutchison Whampoa (HPH), Evergreen, SSA, and, more recently, PSA attests to the attractiveness and value of Panama as a major transshipment center. Panama is the undisputed center for containerized cargo distribution in Latin America, handling close to 7 million TEUs in 2015.
The growth of maritime commerce through Panama, specifically manufactured or semi-manufactured goods originating in East Asia, has been one of the main drivers of the expansion of the Panama Canal. Transshipment in Panama represents a high-value proposition within the trade system of the Americas, and the convergence effect on trade flows that the canal has incited over a century of operations. The Panama Canal has the effect of a narrow strait, similar to Gibraltar or Singapore, where axial east-west trade routes intersect with north-south connectors, making nearby ports ideal for the transshipment of cargoes.
Panama is well placed to be the anchor point of the Caribbean transshipment triangle and the growing trade between the economies of the West Coast of South America and Asia. Its location permits the establishment, on both coasts, of hub-and-spoke services covering relatively short distances within the America’s coastal systems and allows for interlining between long-distance shipping networks. The result is additional transshipment demand from north-south connectors linking east-west deep sea routes and east-west routes relay.