The destination for the upcoming TOC Americas show couldn’t be more apt. The event returns to Panama from October 13-15 at what the organisers are calling a watershed moment. The $5.2 billion project to widen the Panama Canal is nearing completion and from next April, container vessels of up to 13,000TEU will be able to navigate the Canal, which more than doubles the canal’s current 5,000TEU limit.

Jorge Quijano, the chief executive of Panama Canal Authority will deliver a keynote at the event, which is pitched as the annual forum for maritime container trade, transport and port professionals doing business in North and Latin America.

The Panama Canal project is major milestone in the history of the waterway. Broadening the international shipping lane to bigger vessels is predicted to drive "significant" change in international and regional maritime trade dynamics, and the expansion arrives at a time of a rapid global escalation in container ship sizes, with both North and Latin America facing a wave of big ships, both purpose-designed and as a result of cascading. Fast growth The organiser explains: "Latin America has seen some of the fastest growth in ship size in recent times and features heavily in the global list of ‘traditional ports’ on secondary trade lanes that are now routinely handling 8-10,000TEU vessels and bigger.

"Average ship size on the Asia-East Coast South America container trade, for instance, has grown 37% in the last two years alone, with 21% increase on Europe-ECSA, according to latest analysis presented by Drewry Maritime Research at the recent TOC Europe Container Supply Chain conference.

"In North America, average ship size on the Transpacific and Asia-USEC via Suez routes are up 15% in the last two years, with some commentators now warning that US ports needs to start preparing for 18,000TEU ships sooner than anyone might have expected. "Once the expanded Panama Canal opens, many of the new 10,000-13,000 TEU ships now on order for delivery in the next 2 years are expected to find their way into Asia- USEC service via Panama, plus cascaded vessels." Global trends

The combined impact of expanded Panama and Suez Canals and the global trend toward big ships and shipping alliances is set to be a key focus of discussion at this years’ TOC Americas Container Supply Chain conference, which will cover North American, Latin American and Caribbean perspectives. Speakers confirmed stem from Port of Houston, Georgia Ports Authority, COSCO Container Lines, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Ports America, PSA, TC Mariel Cuba and Suez Canal Authority, among others. Caribbean context

The organiser adds: "In the Caribbean context, the recent decision by French shipping giant CMA CGM to invest in a new regional hub in Kingston, Jamaica, plus the impact of thawing US-Cuba relations, are expected to be among the issues discussed by executives including Grantley Stephenson, President, Caribbean Shipping Association, another of this year’s keynote speakers.

"While labour disputes were the immediate catalyst for this year’s US West Coast gridlock, the underlying causes – bigger vessels and cargo peaks leading to congestion at berth and gate – are region-wide, with the pain being felt by cargo owners, ports and terminals, trucking company and carriers themselves. "How to respond to the big ship and alliance challenge will be a second major focus this year, looking at what changes are needed to current port and terminal working practices and stakeholder relations, and what new technologies can bring to the party."