PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- The emergence of northern shipping routes with the melting of the polar ice cap will transform global shipping in the next 10 to 20 years much the way the opening of the Panama and Suez canals did when they opened in their day, according to Iceland's president.
Olafur Ragnar Grímsson said Portland will be a part of that transformation now that Icelandic shipping company Eimskip has made the city its primary U.S. port of call.
Grimsson said Portland will be part of the northern trade route that he says will grow dramatically as the Arctic ice cap recedes. The route is a shipping lane that's now open a couple of months a year running along the Russian Arctic coast linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Moving cargo from Asia to Europe and the U.S. using the northern sea route is 40 percent shorter than shipping cargo to those places by way of the southern route through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal, he said.
"This will be a revolutionary transformation of 21st-century cargo shipping for the United States," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Grimsson is to speak Friday at Maine International Trade Day in South Portland. The event is put on by the Maine International Trade Center, which promotes increased international trade for Maine businesses.
Grimsson is coming to Maine at the invitation of both the trade center and Eimskip, which last month began sending cargo container ships to Portland as part of its North Atlantic cargo shipping route.
The route runs from Portland to Canada, Greenland and Iceland. From there, other ships connect to ports in the United Kingdom, northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.
Making Portland part of the cargo route makes the port an important distribution hub for imports and exports, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, which promotes increased international trade for Maine businesses.
Frozen seafood, other food products and bottled water have been coming into Portland on the ships, she said. As for exports, she expects the service to benefit pulp and paper, seafood and other food product companies.
"It brings a lot of economic development opportunities that we're just scratching the surface of," she said.
The accelerated melting of Arctic ice should also open other business opportunities by making vast natural resources such as oil, gas and iron ore more accessible, Grimsson said.
"It is perhaps the richest untapped resource area on the globe," he said.