Port Metro Vancouver: signs of recovery?

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

With few exceptions Port Metro Vancouver saw all categories of traffic slip in 2009 and, at year end, total tonnage through Canada’s largest port had declined by 11 percent compared to 2008.
There were steep declines in potash (-64.8%), break bulk (-28.4%), chemical, metals and minerals (-28.9%) and forest products (20.9%).
Total container traffic slid -13.6% to 2,152,462 TEUs compared to 2,492,107 TEUs in 2008.
Calling 2009 a turbulent and challenging year port president and CEO, Robin Silvester, said: “Total foreign exports were flat on the year, though Asia, led by China, emerged as a major factor in volume growth for bulk exports.
“The positive economic growth in China and India, along with stability in South Korea, translated into strong increases in exports of Canadian commodities to these trading partners through the port.”
Also, he said that while the port’s laden container traffic was down 10 percent at year-end, this was a marked improvement compared to the 17 percent decline experienced at mid-year.
The steep decline in potash exports came on the heels of a record year in 2008 and was brought about by a slackening in global demand for fertilizer and high prices that led to the curtailment in production at Canada’s mines located in the Province of Saskatchewan.
While the volume of forest products dropped 21 percent the volume of forest products shipped to foreign buyers saw a small increase, again driven primarily by China where shipments of forest products climbed by 38 percent last year.
Silvester told AJOT that box traffic for the first two months of this year has improved considerably, but 2010 is very difficult to predict. Nevertheless, he said the port “is cautiously optimistic, but is definitely on the upward path.”
He said that laden import containers through the port for the first two months of this year are up by 20%.
The consolidation of Vancouver’s three port authorities, two of which governed river ports, has given Port Metro planners the opportunity to investigate how the two rivers, the Fraser and the North Fraser, can fit into the port’s strategic plan and Silvester said that planning is now underway.
“We’ve got a lot of focus on the river,” he said. “At the moment it’s around exploring the opportunity to look at the river in a more strategic way.
“It’s interesting that the Fraser River economically is about as important to Canada as the St. Lawrence Seaway,” he said. “In 2008 we handled 33 million tonnes of cargo on the Fraser River and the St. Lawrence Seaway handled 40 million tonnes of cargo. So, the volumes of Canadian cargo are very much the same.”
“To me that was quite an eye opener,” he said.
“We have to go through an annual process of dredging every year and getting permits, all those sorts of things and, with the agencies involved, we’re wondering if there isn’t a bigger picture here that could be better for all involved in keeping the channel maintained in terms of creating habitat, using that dredge material to create land and, by virtue of that, making the cost of dredging more sustainable,” Silvester said.
“We’re really starting that debate and it’s one that people have been very interested in and very receptive to. That’s a big focus for us. And, for us as a port, it’s about underpinning that major trading asset for Canada.”

American Journal of Transportation