February 7 - After two weeks of negotiations between the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and the Spanish-led consortium in charge of the construction of the third set of locks - Griupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) - almost all activity has ceased.

Production levels dropped to 25 percent while talks broke down on how to settle a dispute over USD1.6 billion in cost overrun, and the ambitious Panama Canal expansion project has now ground to a halt.

The GUPC threatened to stop works in January, but the two parties opted for continued discussion.

However, no agreement has been reached and although the ACP has demanded that the GUPC resume work on the project as required by the contract, the consortium continues to seek an appropriate solution.

The break in negotiations puts the expansion project and up to 10,000 jobs at immediate risk, and without an immediate resolution the ACP faces years of disputes and potential project failure, along with huge cost overruns.

The project is currently more than 70 percent complete and the lock gates are to be delivered this year, but an additional USD1.6 billion of funding is required to reach completion.

According to canal officials, other foreign contractors and project managers have expressed an interest in completing the remaining 30 percent of work that remains on the third canal lock, but  the administrator of the ACP, Jorge Quijano, has insisted that under no circumstances will the 2015 construction deadline be pushed back.

The project, which is already running nine months late, would double the capacity of the 80 km canal, which already carries 5 - 6 percent of world commerce.

"We're going to finish the canal whether it rains, thunders, or there's lightning," declared the country's president, Ricardo Martinelli.