New Orleans, LA – Back in the early 1960s, visitors from Panama arrived by boat once a week in New Orleans, where the Panama Canal authority had offices. Panama Ambassador Mario Jaramillo says cultural ties were strong, but business eventually moved to Miami. The conference has been held there for decades, but the meetings this week are the first in New Orleans in 35 years.
"Traditionally, I guess because of Spanish and the distance, Miami's been like the place for Latin America, and there's where it's gone. But now it was tried out in New Orleans and it seems like it's working well. New Orleans has a lot more to offer as far as tourism and as cost of hotels and everything. It's a lot more advantageous than Miami."
Port of New Orleans President Gary LaGrange says having the conference with 400 visitors back in the city could regenerate business ties.
"This is a huge catalyst for New Orleans. It' a first step. You know, the thousand-mile journey, so to speak, begins with the first step. And that's what this is. This is a first step towards getting back to the pinnacle and the height of Latin American trade that New Orleans once had."
The Panama Canal is expected to double its size in 2014, and ports throughout the country are preparing for more traffic. LaGrange says New Orleans is shifting to move more products by containers - import and export. He says volume at the port could nearly triple by 2025.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming.