The governments of Colombia and China are in talks to construct
canal" alternative to the 97-year-old Panama Canal. China would fund the
project, which would link Colombia's Atlantic and Pacific coasts
together by rail in an attempt to facilitate increased trade between the
two countries. You'll be forgiven if news of the potential partnership
prompts certain questions to pop in your mind. Here are answers to four
of the most pressing:A "dry canal"...is that really just a
Yes. Yes it is. Specifically, a 136 mile railroad that
would link the Atlantic coast city of Cartagena with the Pacific port of
Buenaventura. In addition to the waterway through Panama, the project
would also compete with the Panama Canal Railway. The Guardian's Tania
Branigan notes that the Panama "rail route, built almost 60 years before
the canal...is more expensive than the waterway for shippers but
faster." Still unresolved, writes the Financial Times' Robert
, are "questions about the demand for a second inter-oceanic
rail line within this relatively small area of central America."Why
hasn't anyone else thought of this idea?
They have. "Plans for an
alternative to the Panama Canal are older than the Panama Canal itself,"
of the Financial Times. "One route would cross Nicaragua;
another, southern Mexico." These plans were ultimately "ruled out by
the massive engineering costs and by the environmental hazards of, for
example, mixing sea water with fresh water in rivers and lakes along the
way."How do the Chinese benefit?
China's interests, writes
Wheatley, are relatively simple. It wants coal [and] Colombia is the
world’s fifth biggest producer." More specifically, it has "high quality
coal in easily-worked surface mines close to the Caribbean end of the
proposed route." By increasing efficiency of trade with Colombia,
Wheatley believes China will be able tap "vast quantities of thermal
coal for power stations [and] coking coal for their steel
industries.Colombia has both--and would offer a chance to reduce
dependence on traditional suppliers such as Mozambique."
there's the question of pride, explain The Guardian's Rory
Carroll and Tania Branigan
. While "the railway would hardly have
the same impact of the canal a century ago" it would stand as "a symbol
of China's economic incursions into what the US once considered its
backyard... China is Colombia's second largest trade partner after the
US, with bilateral trade rising from $10m in 1980 to more than $5bn in
2010."How does Colombia benefit?
Right now, Wright notes,
"ships transiting the canal can make only one stop to drop off
containers destined both for Pacific ports in Latin America and those in
the Caribbean." More than establishing both ends of the country as
vibrant port areas, Wheatley believes the Chinese investment would help
Colombia's domestic development. The Caribbean region where the coal is
located is poor and marginal and long troubled by guerilla and
drug-related violence," writes Wheatley. "Investment would promote
security. It is also heavily dependent on the US market for its
manufactured goods and agricultural exports such as flowers. Colombia,
too, could benefit from diversification." On the international stage,
Wheatley says that "getting close to China would help neutralise the
destabilising influence of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela" as well as nudge
the US Congress towards approving a US-Colombia free trade deal.
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