The Spanish and Panamanian governments expressed satisfaction Thursday with an agreement to get a canal-expansion project back on track and said they were open to cooperating on future infrastructure projects.
Spanish Development Minister Ana Pastor and Panamanian Foreign Minister Francisco Alvarez de Soto met Thursday morning at a Madrid hotel before the visiting official returned home ahead of schedule amid a diplomatic spat with Venezuela.
They hailed the agreement the Panama Canal Authority, or ACP, reached last week with the GUPC consortium contracted to build a third set of locks for the inter-oceanic waterway.
That consortium, led by Spain's Sacyr and Italy's Impregilo, had halted work on the locks project earlier in February, citing $1.6 billion in cost overruns.
The consortium won the contract for the third-locks project - the centerpiece of a $5.25 billion canal expansion - in 2009 with a bid of $3.1 billion.
On Thursday, the canal authority and GUPC were expected to sign the agreement that was reached in late February and which, among other things, called for the consortium to pay $100 million and ACP to advance $100 million to enable "works to regain a normal pace in March."
The conceptual agreement also provided that the "$400 million performance bond may only be released to Zurich North America (the guarantor of the expansion project) to obtain financing to complete the work."
The Panama Canal, which was designed in 1904 for ships with a 267-meter (875-foot) length and 28-meter (92-foot) beam, is too small to handle modern ships that are three times as big, making a third set of locks essential.
Pastor traveled to Panama several weeks ago after the financial dispute between GUPC and the canal authority threatened the locks project, which is now scheduled to be completed by December 2015.
The two countries want to continue cooperating on infrastructure projects, an area in which Spain is a "strategic ally," the Panamanian ambassador in Madrid, Roberto Arango, told Efe.
He underscored the role played by both governments in finding a solution to the dispute over the third-locks project.
Line 1 of the Panama City metro - built by a consortium made up of Spain's FCC and Brazil's Odebrecht and the first of its kind in Central America - will be inaugurated in early April and Pastor has been invited to attend the ceremony. EFE