CANAL IMPASSE

Sacyr leaves the door open for agreement in Panama Canal dispute

Spanish public works minister urges the two sides to renew talks

Manuel Manrique, during a recent visit to Panama.
Manuel Manrique, during a recent visit to Panama.B. VELASCO (AFP)

While talks have broken down between the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) and the GUPC consortium – led by Spanish builder Sacyr – in their dispute over cost overruns in the project to widen the waterway, both sides are putting out feelers to pick up negotiations again in the hope of reaching an agreement.

“While there are possibilities, we are going to keep on fighting,” Sacyr’s chairman, Manuel Manrique, told EL PAÍS. Manrique acknowledged that work on building a new set of locks for the canal is coming to a standstill because of a lack of liquidity to pay for materials and workers. “The project is coming to a halt on its own; in fact, it is stopping,” he said. “We want to carry on negotiating even if work comes to a halt.

Spanish Public Works Minister Ana Pastor reiterated calls for both sides to sit down at the negotiating table again and find an agreement. Pastor insisted that the problem was a financial one. “We’re not talking about the engineering, which is impeccable, with magnificent technology and engineers working on the project,” Europa Press quoted her as saying. She added that it was important to “defend the Spain brand in terms of civil engineering.”

For the moment the government has no plans to resend an envoy to Panama after Pastor’s trip last month. “If news is confirmed of a breakdown in talks, it would be a bad piece of news for all concerned because we believe there is an alternative that would be better for everyone,” Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said.

PCA’s administrator Jorge Quijano also said there was still a window of opportunity to reach an agreement, while Panama’s ambassador to Spain, Roberto Arango, told radio station Onda Cero that while the consortium was willing to talk, it was not the end of the line for the group to finish the project.

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