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With much fanfare, Panama finally opening up a long delayed $5.4 billion expansion of its canal, despite growing concerns of a global slump in the shipping industry. A 984-foot Chinese container ship, the first to pass through the massive, new Agua Clara lock, Sunday. The expansion which took nearly ten years to complete now allows for megaships carrying up to 15,000 containers to pass through the channel.
With the water waste capacity doubling, Panama hopes to snatch business from rival Suez Canal in Egypt and US land routes. Reuters' correspondent Enrique Pretel was at the launch.>> By 2021, the Panama Canal Authority expects the project will bring $2.1 billion to the state, representing 2.8% of gross domestic product.
But critics say the party comes amid a slowdown for the international shipping market. A drop in oil prices and an economic lull in China means fees to shipping companies have plummeted, and cargo traffic dropped nearly 10% in 2015. So far, 170 ships have signed up to use the canal in the next three months.