TRANS-ATLANTIC TRADE - Halifax pursues focus on growth markets

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

By Leo Ryan, AJOTThe Port of Halifax will continue to give priority to increasing its container cargo business as, “Canada’s Atlantic Gateway to the hottest markets in the world,” stresses Karen Oldfield, President and CEO of the Halifax Port Authority (HPA).
Indeed, her recent annual state of the port address to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce contained what could be qualified as fighting words in the wake of the loss of a large US customer and public criticism from former port chairman Merv Russell.
On this occasion, Oldfield began with a blunt comment: “Let me set the record straight – the management team at the Port of Halifax does not think it is a real estate agency.”
This was in reference to a statement in March by Russell to the effect that, “…the only announcements you hear out of the port are about real estate. You don’t hear anything about new clients, you only hear of clients leaving.”
Last year, the port’s containerized cargo dropped to 490,071 teus from 530,000 teus in 2006 and more than 550,000 teus in 2005. Main negative factors were global carrier restructuring involving Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd plus the loss of China Shipping calls.
Russell had voiced his criticism following the decision by Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. to shift its container shipments to Europe from Halifax to Portsmouth, Virginia due to inconsistent service during the past severe winter on the Canadian National Railway network.
“We are working very closely with CN and with the shipping line, ACL,” Oldfield said. “The issues are being addressed and Caterpillar could – I stress could – return to Halifax, because it makes business sense for the customer. But there is no guarantee. And this one shipper demonstrates how absolutely dependent we are on every link of the supply chain working perfectly.”
The Port of Halifax, Oldfield recalled, is generally affected by such factors as industry consolidation, the weakness of the US dollar, expansion moves at US east coast ports, and a small local population. “So 70% of what comes to Halifax by ship goes out to other markets in Montreal or Toronto, or the US Midwest by rail.”
Instead, she said, “Halifax is really a landbridge to other, lucrative markets. And what links us to those markets is CN.
“CN is our lifeline – plain and simple. We rely on them and they rely on us. When we have a setback, they have a setback. So when a shipper decides to stop using CN rail over a service issue – as recently happened with Caterpillar – CN’s problem became our problem.”
Pointing to important developments at competing ports on the US eastern seaboard, Oldfield listed these elements:
“Ports like Norfolk, Virginia, with a new 400 acre state-of-the-art terminal and a $400 million rail upgrade straight through to Chicago paid for by the US government.
“Ports like Savannah, Georgia, where every level of government came together around a strategy tying cargo growth to the retail sector.
“Even New York/New Jersey where the US Corps of Army Engineers has spent billions of dollars on dredging, and the Port Authority itself is spending millions to upgrade the on-dock rail.”
Oldfield also noted, “…now US ports are enjoying the competitive advantage of a lower US dollar while we are challenged by a higher Canadian dollar.”
In the past few years, the deepwater Port of Halifax has been promoting itself as an uncongested North American gateway of choice via the Suez Canal for shippers in India and Asia. It lists such advantages as being 1,500 nautical miles closer to India than any west coast port and a full day closer to Southeast Asia than any other east coast port. In growth markets like China, the Far East, South America and the Caribbean, Oldfield affirms that the Port of Halifax is making progress.

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American Journal of Transportation