PANAMA CITY, Panama, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Panama to discuss improved commercial shipping ties with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli.
Biden, accompanied on the trip by the mayors of coastal cities Philadelphia, Baltimore and Atlanta, said an ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, poses an economic boon for East Coast ports where huge container ships dock before headed through the waterway.
Martinelli called on the United States to begin dredging work at critical ports to allow the larger ships that will begin utilizing the canal after the expansion is complete in 2015 to dock.
"[We] have discussed the expansion of the canal and how significant and important it is for world commerce, as well as, very specially, for the East Coast of the United States," Martinelli said during a joint press conference that followed the closed-door meeting between the two delegations at the president's ornate office outside Panama City. "It is imperative and necessary that the ports on the East Coast of the United States increase the dredging capability of their ports and go to at least 50 feet depth in order to take advantage of the new sizes of ships -- the post-Panamax ships that will be able to transit the Panama Canal with the expansion."
Panamax is the term used for the new larger ships.
Biden spoke next, lauding the cooperation between the two nations and calling the meeting "one of the best conversations that I've experienced, and I've been doing this a long time."
He, too lauded the canal expansion, which will allow ships 160 feet wide to pass through. Presently only ships 106 feet wide or smaller can pass through the canal.
"[It] matters a great deal to the American people," Biden said of the expansion. "It matters to our manufacturers. It matters to our farmers, our Merchant Marine, and our longshoremen. It matters a great deal, as you know, Mr. President, to businessmen that will enable American business to be more competitive. People locate businesses and manufacturing facilities in places where they can quickly, cheaply, and responsibly get their product to market. That only occurs if there is serious [commitment to] infrastructure."