Francisco A. Laguna & Wojciech Kornacki
Today, we continue our discussion of the Grand Interoceanic Canal being built through Nicaragua by examining key facts about the project and its expected economic impact on Nicaragua.
The project is several times greater than the annual gross domestic product of Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government estimates that it will create double-digit growth once completed in 2019.
The Idea: The idea behind the project is over 100 years old. In early 1900s, the United States was considering building an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua. However, in the end, the United States opted for Panama because of the concerns over the volcanic activity in the area of the proposed canal in Nicaragua. Currently, the canal is expected to be twice the depth and three times the length of the Panama Canal. We did not uncover any information of how the concerns over volcanic activity and potential earthquakes have been resolved presently. In addition, TransLegal represented a client in the early 2000s interested in raising funds for a canal through Guatemala.
The Costs: The project is estimated to cost approximately $50 billion over the next 5 years, but financing is unclear. The HKND Group plans on 6 sub-projects which will include 2 ports, an international airport, roads, a power station, a cement factory, a steel factory and several other facilities. In addition, a major railroad line will be connected to this project. Other costs may include massive population resettlement and unknown environmental costs.
The Country: This cost of this project is several times bigger than the annual gross domestic product of Nicaragua, which the World Bank estimates at $11.2 Billion (2013). While Nicaragua has been making steady economic progress in the recent years, past decades included political and para-military violence. Currently, Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the region. Nicaragua is unable to finance the project by itself.
The Builder: According to its own website, the HKND Group is a privately-held international infrastructure development firm headquartered in Hong Kong, PRC, with its offices around the world. Its Chief Executive Officer, Wang Jing, has over 20 years of successful experience in management and investment. However, concerns have been expressed that the company has no experience in canal building as well as the transparency of the project. Major partners of the HKND Group include the China Railway Construction Corporation, an Australian mining company MEC Mining, and Chinese construction equipment company XCMG.
Lake Nicaragua: Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lake Cocibolca, is a major source of water for Nicaraguans. A 2013 World Bank study indicates that the lake is already threatened by eutrophication, agrochemicals and poorly treated waste water, among others. Eutrophication essentially means the spread of algae blooms which deteriorates water quality. Thus, establishing an interoceanic trade route through the lake may cause additional concerns, and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.
The Potential Economic Benefits for Nicaragua
Annual Growth: The Nicaraguan government estimates that its GDP will increase by 11 annually as a result of the canal, which would dramatically improve its economic outlook. This would in turn help the Nicaraguan economy grow, create more and permanent jobs and increase revenue. If successful, this project could contribute to making Nicaragua one of the richest countries in the region. The cost of such success remains to be seen.
250,000 Future Jobs: Francisco Telemaco Talavera, president of the National Council of Universities and project spokesman, strongly believes in the benefits of this canal. The project and its sub-projects are expected to generate 50,000 jobs in the construction industry and another 200,000 permanent jobs once completed. These are significant numbers for a country that has experienced an unemployment rate of ~ 10 percent between 2010 and 2014. The potential of incorporating 250,000 individuals into the market economy would be tremendously beneficial to Nicaragua, a nation of 6 million.
Source of Revenue: The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal are major sources of revenue for Egypt and Panama respectively. With its enormous size and depth, the Grand Interoceanic Canal is expected to be able to handle the biggest ships in the world. Currently, the Panama Canal is too narrow to accommodate such big ships. Thus, if successful, the canal may prove highly profitable to Nicaragua. However, before the people of Nicaragua start benefitting from it, the Nicaraguan government, the HKND Group and its partners will have to overcome major financing, design, environmental and social obstacles.
In the next and last article of this series of articles examining the Grand Interoceanic Canal, we will examine how this project is expected to impact Panama with its own interoceanic canal, other countries in the region, and international seaborne shipping companies.
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