Expansion work on the Panama Canal has virtually stalled amid an ongoing cost overrun dispute between the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and the multinational consortium, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the ACP announced Wednesday.
ACP Administrator Jorge Quijano said at a press conference in Panama City that the GUPC has slowed work to a snail's pace after he pointed out last week that the builders were working at 25 percent capacity and an extended deadline for reaching a negotiated solution had expired.
Quijano acknowledged it was important to get the expansion work back on track, saying "we are going to continue the works, with or without them (the GUPC)."
The consortium in charge of the construction project had earlier threatened to suspend the works unless the ACP helped pay for cost overruns, and the ACP responded with a letter warning that it could rescind the construction contract unless work resumed, said Quijano.
The Spanish-led consortium includes Spain's Sacyr Vallehermoso, Italy's Impregilo, Belgium's Jan de Nul and Panama's CUSA.
"It's an open letter and as of today the clock is ticking," he said, adding the ACP was fully capable of taking over the construction project and canceling its contract with the group.
The contract establishes that the group must maintain the construction pace at an acceptable rhythm, he said.
After initial gestures of accommodation, in which both sides said they were willing to bear a share of the burden of extra costs, the two sides have grown increasingly apart, said Quijano, denying the canal authority had abandoned the negotiating table.
On the contrary, he said, the ACP is willing to continue talking to find a solution.
The ACP administrator also acknowledged that the U.S. government is interested in the completion of the expansion work, since the United States is the leading client of the Panama Canal, followed by China and Chile.