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Panama Canal expansion has potential to increase Virginia ag trade

RICHMOND—In an ever-expanding global economy, Virginia farmers stand to benefit from a current expansion of the Panama Canal.

“We are keenly interested in the Panama Canal expansion,” said Rodney Oliver, interim executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “It can’t happen soon enough.”

Oliver spoke March 8 at Virginia’s fifth annual Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade. The port authority operates six terminals, including Norfolk’s Port of Virginia, the nation’s fifth-largest and the East Coast’s third-largest container port.

“We have lots of optimism for the Port of Virginia because of the Panama Canal expansion,” Oliver said.

The expansion is expected to be finished in May 2015. The canal will go from handling ships loaded 13 containers wide to accommodating those that are loaded 18 wide. Additionally, its depth will increase to nearly 50 feet.

The Port of Virginia is the only East Coast port that can handle ships built for water that deep, Oliver said.

“The sky’s the limit for our growth.”

That’s important for Virginia farmers. “Agriculture exports generate nearly 30 percent of annual farm cash receipts,” Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore told conference participants.

Last year, Virginia agricultural exports to China increased 110 percent, those to India grew an exponential 460 percent and exports to Mexico grew almost 50 percent, Haymore said. Overall, there has been a 17 percent growth in Virginia’s agricultural exports over the past two years.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who also spoke at the conference, said the Panama Canal expansion “will issue a new gateway to Asia for us.”

Contact Greg Edwards, Virginia Port Authority director of external affairs, at 757-683-2110.
Posted in: Agriculture Trade


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