MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The U.S. public and private sectors would be willing to come together to jointly invest in the construction of a $40 billion "Nicaragua Canal" that would rival the Panama Canal, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce official.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Walter Bastian said that he finds the project "fascinating" and that the U.S. government will follow up to see if there is interest from U.S. investors.
Bastian said Tuesday while visiting Nicaragua that for the U.S. it is important that the process of awarding contracts is transparent and that those contracts have legal certainty.
The Chinese company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. was awarded the canal project. Experts said it could take 11 years to finish, cost $40 billion and require digging 130 miles of waterway.
It's an ambitious project that is backed by experienced consultants, despite skepticism, the Chinese businessman and project mastermind told the press last month.
"We don't want it to become an international joke, and we don't want it to turn into an example of Chinese investment failures," Wang Jing, chairman and owner of Hong Kong-based HKND Group, told a news conference in Beijing.
Wang, 40, a relative newcomer whose business history prior to 2010 is virtually unknown, received approval from Nicaragua's government earlier this month for HKND to study, and possibly build and run a shipping channel across the Central American country. Some Nicaraguan lawmakers and residents have expressed reservations about the company's competence.
Wang said early assessments of the project have been favorable, taking into account future economic growth of the U.S. and China as well as the enormous Chinese appetite for mineral resources from Latin America.
"The world trade has been so developed today that it needs a new canal," Wang said. "The Panama Canal is not enough for the trade conducted currently between East and West."
He said return from the project "is sure to make every investor smile broadly."
Wang said his consultants on the project have rich experience and include U.S.-based McKinsey & Co. and China's biggest construction firm, the state-owned China Railway Construction Corp.
He said his team is proposing ways to minimize risk, for example, by routing the canal through the middle of Nicaragua to avoid any potential border dispute with neighboring Costa Rica. Wang said he hopes to deliver the feasibility report a year from now, and that the project would break ground by the end of 2014 and be completed in less than six years.
Wang offered little new information about himself, saying that he comes from an ordinary Chinese family in Beijing and that he studied traditional Chinese medicine before becoming a businessman.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.