UPDATE 1-Deadline looms as Panama Canal, consortium seek end to cost dispute
By Lomi Kriel and Sonya Dowsett
PANAMA CITY/MADRID Feb 18 (Reuters) - The Panama Canal and a Spanish-led construction consortium expanding the major global waterway discussed options on Tuesday to keep the multibillion-dollar project afloat amid a dispute over costs, but any deal seemed unlikely ahead of a looming deadline.
The disagreement between the two parties over $1.6 billion in cost overruns and how to maintain financing has already halted work on the project for two weeks and has delayed its projected completion until at least December 2015.
Delays could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls and are a setback for companies worldwide that are eager to move larger ships through the canal, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers that want to ship from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian markets.
"The Panama Canal Authority reports that despite efforts to agree with (consortium) Grupos Unidos por el Canal to resume work on the new locks project, positions between the parties remain apart," the canal authority said in a statement.
"Although last week the parties seem to have come to an agreement on certain components during the talks, there were serious disagreements at the time of putting it in writing," it added, saying the parties agreed to resume talks on Wednesday morning.
Canal administrator Jorge Quijano last Wednesday set a target of no more than a week to reach a deal to jump-start the project, a deadline that will lapse in the coming hours.
Quijano had previously warned that the canal could terminate the contract with the consortium and push ahead with a third party if a deal proves elusive. Continuación...