Q: Who owns the Panama Canal? A: Under the terms of a 1903 treaty, the United States acquired unilateral rights to build and operate a canal in perpetuity. After years of negotiations, and with the advice and consent of the Senate, in 1977 the Government of the United States concluded a treaty with the Government of Panama calling for the gradual transfer of full authority and control over the Panama Canal to the Government of Panama. That process, begun in 1979, culminates in the final transfer of the Canal to Panama at noon on December 31, 1999. Q: What is going to happen to the Panama Canal on December 31, 1999? A: At noon on December 31, 1999, operation of the Panama Canal will be transferred from the Panama Canal Commission, a U.S. Government Corporation, to the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian Government Agency. The Panama Canal Authority will manage, operate, and maintain the Canal, its complementary works, installations, and equipment, and will provide for the orderly transit of vessels through the Canal. Q: What has the U.S. done to plan for the future security of the Canal? A: Following the transfer of the Canal, the Government of Panama assumes responsibility for its security. The U.S. will continue to have an interest in assuring that the canal remains secure. We already are consulting with the Government of Panama on ways we might support its own efforts to guarantee the security of the Canal. Q: Is the U.S. giving up its role in the Panama Canal? A: Following the transfer of the Canal on December 31, 1999, the United States will continue to maintain a close interest in Canal operations. In addition, U.S. warships will be entitled to expeditious passage through the Canal at all times and the U.S. will continue to have the obligation to ensure that the Canal remains open and secure. Q: Does he Government of the United States plan to begin talks with the new Government of Panama regarding a U.S. military presence after 1999? A: The Government of the United States has no current plans to discuss a post-1999 military presence with the Government of Panama. Upon final transfer of the Canal to Panama the task of protecting it on a routine basis will devolve to the Government of Panama. The U.S. stands ready to work with the Government of Panama, now and in the future, on any plan it might devise for the protection of the Canal. Q: How will ships transiting the Canal be affected by this transfer? A: The United States is working closely with the Government of Panama to ensure that Canal users will not notice any differences in service as the Canal changes hands. The "Neutrality Treaty" signed by the U.S. and Panama in 1977 establishes a legal framework to ensure security of the Canal and to guarantee that it remains open to ships of all nations on an equal footing. Q: Is the U.S. Government giving away $160 million to the Government of Panama in addition to transferring the Canal? A: In 1996, the Panama Canal Commission established a long-range capital assets improvement program to enhance the capacity and safety of the Panama Canal. The program, scheduled for completion in 2005, includes capital projects that are funded out of a "revolving" fund that consists of toll receipts and does not include any U.S. taxpayer monies. After careful consideration of the legal and policy issues, relevant USG agencies agreed that transferring the fund to the Panama Canal Authority (successor to the Panama Canal Commission) would be proper and consistent with U.S. law. Moreover, such transfer would be consistent with the U.S. obligation in the Panama Canal Treaty to turn over the Canal "in operating condition and free of liens and debts." Q: What about stories that China is taking over the Panama Canal? A: The Government of Panama granted a concession to operate the ports of Balboa and Cristobal, on the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the Canal, respectively, to the Hong Kong company Hutcheson-Whampoa in 1996. Under the terms of the contract, Hutcheson-Whampoa does not own the ports, but rather operates them on behalf of the Government of Panama. The U.S. does not believe that the concession granted to Hutcheson-Whampoa represents a threat to the Canal. Several entities of the U.S. Government, including the Federal Maritime Commission and the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have researched this issue extensively and have not uncovered any evidence to support a conclusion that the People^s Republic of China will be in a position to control Canal operations. The neutrality of the Canal and its operations are guaranteed by the "Neutrality Treaty& signed and ratified by the governments of the U.S. and Panama, and also by that Treaty^s protocol, to which 36 other countries are states party. Q: Why is the United States Government refusing to clean up unexploded ordnance on firing ranges in Panama as required by the Canal Treaty? A: The Canal Treaty requires the United States to "take all measures to ensure insofar as may be ^practicable,^ that hazards to human life, health and safety are removed." In the case of the former firing ranges, the U.S. has fulfilled that requirement. All areas of the former ranges that are accessible were cleared to the extent practicable. As is the case with many ranges scheduled for transfer in the U.S., there are significant obstacles that make a full cleanup impossible. Some areas, representing about 3% of the total area transferred, will continue to have unexploded ordnance present because rough terrain and dense tropical forest make clearance impracticable. These areas are located in the environmentally sensitive canal watershed and would suffer possible irreparable damage if cleared and graded in order to find unexploded ordnance. The U.S. has provided information on the management of such areas, gained from similar experience in the U.S., and equipment to the Government of Panama to help it to manage these areas. The U.S. will continue to consult with Panama on this issue in the future. Q: Why didn^t the United States Government negotiate an agreement with the Government of Panama to establish a counter-narcotics center that would have allowed the U.S. to continue to use the valuable facilities at Howard AFB? A: The U.S. and Panama negotiated for almost two years on an agreement that would have allowed U.S. Forces to remain in Panama and to carry out counter-narcotics activities. Ultimately, however, the negotiations were unsuccessful. The U.S. need for a cost-effective military presence could not be reconciled with the political and financial requirements of the Panamanian Government. Q: How will the U.S. make up for the loss of U.S. bases in Panama? A: The U.S. has entered into agreements with the governments of Ecuador and the Netherlands to use existing facilities in Ecuador and the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba and Curacao) as Forward Operating Locations for counter-narcotics missions. Operations from these facilities have begun already. Q: What is the main purpose of the Canal? A: The Canal was opened to benefit the world community, by allowing ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Q: When was the Panama Canal built? A: The Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1914. Q: How many people work at the Panama Canal? A: The Panama Canal has a work force of about 9,500. Q: What is the average number of ships using the Canal each day, and the average amount of water used to float one ship? A: Average number of ships per day is 36 to 38 transits. Average water used per day is 52 million gallons [200 million liters] of fresh water used in each transit. Q: How much traffic has used the Panama Canal since its construction? A: Since it first opened on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal has provided quality transit service to more than 700,000 vessels. Q: How long is the Panama Canal? A: The Panama Canal stretches 50 miles from deep water in the Pacific to deep water in the Atlantic. Q: How long does it take for a ship to travel through the Panama Canal? A: Ship transit time averages between 8 to 10 hours. Q: What does it cost to transit the Canal? A: Rates of tolls will be determined by the Panama Canal Authority. The toll varies depending on type of vessel, its tonnage and cargo. Q: How high does a ship go above sea level? A: In the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic, ships are raised 85 feet above sea level; the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks raise and lower ships 31 feet and 54 feet respectively. December 8,1999.