Nicaragua's Sandinista government said Friday it wants to build an alternative to the Panama Canal through its territory and called for international help in launching a feasibility study.

Finance Minister William Hupper told a news conference in Managua the proposed canal would be "a complex project because of its scope," but would "greatly contribute to the economic development of Nicaragua, Central America and to international commerce."Hupper said Nicaragua launched the canal project "because important institutions, scientists and corporations currently believe it is necessary to advance in the construction of a new inter-oceanic canal to respond to growing levels of navigation and human economic needs."

He said a team of Japanese experts would visit Nicaragua early next month to begin a "pre-feasibility study" that will cost some $40 million.

Experts say that a new canal would cost billions of dollars.

The proposed canal, which would be about 180 miles long, would follow a route through southern Nicaragua, beginning at San Juan del Norte on the country's southern Caribbean coast, following the San Juan river along Nicaragua's border with Costa Rica into Lake Nicaragua, and then out across a narrow band of land to the Pacific coast.