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A new concern

Traditionally, December is the month we talk about energy. Your only concerns this December regarding energy will be if you produce the stuff, not buy it. The question for producers of any ilk right now is how to make money at these prices.

I will give you a new concern, one vital to the worldwide pulp and paper industry. There are at least two great choke points in the ocean-going shipping industry--the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. The Suez Canal has been plagued for years with pirates on the Gulf of Aden end. Shipping companies and sovereign nations seem to have learned to deal with this.

The Panama Canal is the new focus of concern. The Chinese government is planning to build a new Embassy on the Pacific Ocean end of the Canal. They would like to build it on an outlying island which has a clear command of traffic going and coming. So far, both the government of Panama and the United States have thwarted this ambition. What the long-term prospects are, however, is anybody's guess.

These two canals are vital to long term economical shipping for not only the pulp and paper industry, but all commerce around the world. It will be important to keep an eye on the political scene in both these locations, but especially in Panama.

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.

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