Panama's ambassador to the U.S. thinks Savannah has the "inside track" to benefit from the expansion of the Panama Canal, but will face competition from many other ports.

The Americas Competitiveness Forum, which was launched in Atlanta in 2007, received an unexpected boost from Panama’s ambassador to the U.S. during his visit here with 30 of his peers from Washington the week of Oct. 11.

Jaime E. Aleman told GlobalAtlanta during a breakfast meeting at the Metro Atlanta Chamber that Panama hoped to host the forum in 2013.

In addition, he said that he plans to attend the upcoming forum in Atlanta and expects Juan Carlos Varela, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Panama’s vice president and minister of foreign relations, to join him.

Robert Henriquez. Panama’s minister of commerce and industries, also is to attend.

Jose Ignacio Gonzalez, the executive director of the Atlanta forum, who is in the midst of preparing this year’s event, which is to be held Nov. 16-18, received Mr. Aleman’s news enthusiastically.

“We’re very happy and very proud that the baby has grown out of the cradle,” Mr. Gonzalez said now that the forum is to be held in the Dominican Republic next year and in Colombia in 2012 with the possibility of Panama in 2013.

Mr. Gonzalez also said that the preparations for the forum next month are well on the way with 1,000 prominent business and political visitors expected from 34 countries.

The event is to be co-hosted by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

The forum is an outgrowth of Atlanta’s efforts to become site of a secretariat for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. While that concept proved to be premature, the efforts dating back more than a decade have evolved into the annual forums.

Mr. Aleman, who has been Panama’s ambassador to the U.S. for almost a year, also told GlobalAtlanta that he has been exhilarated by the extensive interest he has found toward the expansion of the Panama Canal.

“I didn’t realize what interconnectivity there was between the expansion of the Panama Canal and the activities of the ports here and what they had to do to be ready for that occasion,” he said.

He also said Savannah has the “inside track” in terms of benefiting from the expansion of the canal that will enable larger ships, called post-panamax vessels, to pass through the canal.

The expansion is expected to be completed by 2014 and to enhance the flow of cargo from the West to East Coast.

“I have learned that Savannah will benefit most from the growth of the Panama Canal but they have to do their homework,” he added, meaning the port needed to get federal funding and further deepen its harbor to be able to accommodate the new vessels.

Mr. Aleman complimented Mr. Reed for attending a White House meeting in support of Savannah. Mr. Reed, a former Georgia state senator, mentioned that he had done so in his comments to the ambassadors as an example of his willingness as mayor of Atlanta to support positive initiatives for the state as a whole.

Mr. Aleman said that he has visited ports in Baltimore; Miami; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans and Tampa, Fla., which would all like to attract the anticipated traffic from the canal.

Even the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is making preparations for the canal’s expansion and is planning either to dig a tunnel or raise a bridge so that the larger vessels can reach its ports, Mr. Aleman said.

Meanwhile, Panama has experienced the highest economic growth of any Latin American country in the past eight years, he added.

For more information about the forum to be held in Atlanta, go to

For a podcast about the forum in which Mr. Gonzalez participated with Craig Lesser, former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, go to http://www.globalatlanta.comarticle/24190.