A year ago at this time, the great majority of Canadian ports were suffering cargo declines as the devastating COVID-19 was in full flight and the global economy was being hammered by the worst downturn in decades. Traffic levels were plunging at levels ranging from the low single digits to high double digits. Pretty exceptional was the performance of the Port of Sept-Iles, whose iron ore-dominated traffic growth of nearly 13% was sparked by a significant rise in commodity prices (see separate report North America’s leading iron ore export hub surging towards new peaks). Fortunately, the outlook has improved substantially as vaccination roll-outs accelerate rapidly and caseloads diminish in the advanced economies.

Thus, following a pandemic-ravaged 2020, Canada’s economy picked up steam in the first six months of 2021. After a decline of 5.4% in 2020, Canada’s GDP is forecast to grow by 6.1% this year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). U.S. economic growth could attain 6.4% while global output could progress 5.8%, according to the OECD’s latest revised assessment. So Canadian ports are able to give priority once again to enhancing their competitiveness by expanding capacity.

Below are brief highlights of Canadian port developments:

Canadian East Coast Ports

At Montreal, Canada’s second largest port after Vancouver, various positive factors are fuelling optimism. After seeing its volume drop in 2020 by about 14% to 35 million metric tons and container cargo decrease by 6% to 1.6 million TEUs, the first half of 2021 was showing recovery momentum.

“The return of fluidity, with a dwell time of less than two days in June, demonstrates the robustness of our Port of Montreal model,” noted, first of all, Rosetta Iacono, Director Growth and Development. “Container volumes are coming back to Montreal, despite the past year challenges, with a strong forecasted month of June.

“Another factor in favor of our recovery,” Iacono said, “is the absence of vessel congestion. Unlike the West Coast ports with weeks of vessel congestion and East Coast ports struggling to manage the container bottle necks, the absence of vessel congestion in Montreal can be explained by the optimal use of our 11 container berths, providing plenty of capacity to handle multiple vessel calls. Specifically: we handle 10 to 12 container ships per week, there is no waiting time at anchorage.”

Container traffic at Port of Montreal benefitting from congestion-free operations and low dwell-times
Container traffic at Port of Montreal benefitting from congestion-free operations and low dwell-times

While Europe remains Montreal’s largest market, maritime trade with Asia now represents nearly 28% of the port’s container business.

“We see this rising trend from Asia continue in 2021,” Iacono indicated. “Our carriers continue to increase the Asia offering via connections through Mediterranean ports (transshipment) which opened Asia to Ontario and Quebec’s shippers. As two-thirds of Canada’s population lives in Quebec and Ontario, many importers have quickly realized that it is a viable option to ship from Asia via Montreal because we…

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