The Baltic Freight Index committee is discussing the possible implications for the index of any future cuts in the Panama Canal draft.
The BFI is used as the basis for trading on the freight futures market.The Panama Canal recently introduced restrictions on vessels passing in the Gatun Lock, but the maximum draft remains at 39 feet, 6 inches.
The El Nino weather phenomenon brought the driest rainy season to Panama in years, which has lowed water levels in the central lake feeding the canal. The Panama Canal Authority said it would be reviewing draft levels in mid-February.
A cut in the draft to 36 feet would eliminate 6,000 tons of cargo, shipping sources said.
U.S. grain industry analysts said last week that grain could be moved to the U.S. West Coast.
Gary McKinney, manager of international operations with the U.S. Feed Grains Council, said restrictions would likely result in a slowdown or backup of grain shipping in one form or another, although he said it was difficult to speculate on the impact of restrictions this early.
''If it would escalate into something bigger in the coming weeks, we could see more shipping move to the Pacific Northwest, but right now I'm not sure if there's a noticeable change because they're already using those ports,'' Mr. McKinney said.
But Panama's Planning and Economic Policy Minister Guillermo Chapman said Friday that restrictions should not last beyond the midyear. Normal rainfall is expected to resume by around May, he said.
Rates for all types of cargoes have fallen dramatically since the start of the New Year. Too many ships are chasing too few cargoes with few indications of any major sales of any of the bulk commodities, brokers said.