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US$1.6 bil. Panama Canal dispute under negotiation

PANAMA CITY--After emergency Spanish mediation, the Panama Canal Authority and a consortium expanding the major waterway will try Tuesday to resolve a US$1.6 billion dispute threatening to disrupt the project.

Spanish Public Works Minister Ana Pastor flew to the Central American nation for crisis talks on Monday with Panama's president, canal officials and executives of the Spanish-led companies.

The Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) consortium, headed by Spanish builder Sacyr, has threatened to halt the massive project unless local authorities pay for US$1.6 billion in “unforeseen” charges by Jan. 20.

While the ultimatum remains in place, the two sides agreed to hold negotiations Tuesday that will include talks on extra funds that have yet to be determined, officials said.

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