The recent grounding of a large container vessel in the Suez Canal was a sharp reminder of how disrupted trade upends our way of life. Container vessels moving through the Suez represent 13% of global maritime trade. At one point, over 360 vessels waited in line to pass through the canal. The grounded ship itself carried 20,000 containers. That’s a lot of stuck stuff!
Years ago, I visited the Panama Canal. Like the Suez Canal, its passageway transports a significant percentage of global trade. The original architect of the Panama Canal, Ferdinand De Lesseps, had also led the creation of the Suez Canal. He attempted to build the Panama Canal in the same design as the Suez Canal, as a sea-level canal. The attempt to excavate the massive amount of material and additional challenges from malaria and yellow fever ultimately resulted in the project’s failure. A new and different design was required: a canal with locks.
What I learned this past year from BAFT conferences, workshops, and webinars, is that many past practices are changing quickly and new and distinct ideas are the solutions for the future. We, as the practitioners of trade finance, need to offer our expertise as we advance and advocate for change.
The blockage of the Suez Canal also was a lesson on the collective efforts of engineers, sailors, and officials collaborating with skill and specialized equipment in working to solve the crisis. This effort was coupled with a moment of good fortune. A supermoon, a full moon that passes nearest the earth, allowed the tide to increase 19 inches above the level from when the vessel was grounded. That phenomenon, in combination with tug boats and dredging up to 60 feet, freed the ship.
I have had the very good fortune to work with skilled colleagues throughout the world that keep trade flowing. It gives me a sense of purpose and gratitude that in a small way I may have helped in the delivery of needed goods globally.
May good fortune be with you always!
Head of Global Financial Institutions