1. Yesterday, Panamanians voted overwhelmingly in favour of canal expansion. This is a big thing. The existing canal, through which passes 5% of global shipping, is limited to vessels carrying no more than 4000 containers. The new canal will allow ships carrying 12,000 containers to pass through. Work should start next year and complete in 2014, a hundred years after the canal was first opened in 1914.
2. President Martin Torrijos made canal expansion his key mission. It will greatly improve the future of 3 million Panamanians. There are risks of course and many are doubtful about the economic viability. In such situations, leadership is key. What he and his ministers want to do is to make use of the canal traffic to turn Panama into a hub, especially for air and sea traffic. They see Singapore as a ready model for themselves. They want PSA and other Singapore companies to operate there. The FTA we signed with Panama a few months ago was precisely to enhance our mutually-beneficial bilateral relationship.
3. Panama is halfway around the world from Singapore. But in a shrinking, inter-connected world, what happens there will have an impact on us and vice versa. Canal expansion is good for international trade and good for Singapore. The success of the referendum yesterday is a piece of good news. I have just faxed letters of congratulations to friends there.