Canadian ports are coming off a modestly good year underscored by changing trade patterns, and expect better or similar results in 2012 despite global uncertainties.
The Port of Montreal enjoyed a record year with overall cargo volume rising 9 percent to 28.3 million metric tons, despite a 30 percent drop in grain traffic to 1.6 million tons. Container traffic accounted for nearly half the total, rising 3 percent to 12.4 million tons, or 1.2 million 20-foot equivalent container units.
Most notable for Montreal was the growth in transshipments, primarily from Asia and the Mediterranean, outpacing traditional northern Europe trade, and the fact that Canadian demand and U.S. demand is falling as a ratio of destination imports. Of the roughly 1.2 million TEUs moving through Montreal, 70 percent will be Canadian cargo and 30 percent U.S. cargo, said Tony Boemi, vice president of the Montreal Port Authority. U.S.-bound cargo in the past years has run about 42 to 45 percent of the total container volume Montreal handled.
“The absolute numbers of containers to and from the U.S. Midwest still increases — we still hold our own with U.S. business,” he said. But the U.S. share of traffic at Montreal has decreased as Canadian demand has fallen.
“Montreal is in the middle of two core but struggling economies, Europe and the United States,” Boemi said. “Our increase in container cargo is all from transshipments. Ten years ago, our trade was essentially 80 percent northern Europe and 15 percent western Mediterranean. Today it is 50 percent northern Europe, 12 percent Asia, nearly 30 percent eastern and western Mediterranean, plus 4 percent Africa and 6 percent Latin America. And the vast majority of that new business is Canadian trade.”
Canada’s largest port, Port Metro Vancouver in British Columbia, handled about 2.5 million full TEUs in 2011, of which about 6 percent, or 150,000 TEUs, was cargo bound for the U.S., a relatively unchanging share of total container trade for the port.
“We expect 3 to 4 percent container growth for 2012, despite this being a challenging time for shipping lines,” said Peter Xotto, the port authority’s vice president for operations. Vancouver’s top three exports are agricultural crops, wood pulp and lumber.
China has been taking over from the U.S. as the top market for Canadian lumber, and Xotto expects that to continue this year. The Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis hit Vancouver’s automobile trade, but Xotto expects automotive imports to return to historical levels of about 400,000 units this year. Canadian demand for imports remains high, and Xotto counts particularly on China and other Asian markets to maintain demand for Canadian commodity exports.
At Prince Rupert, spokesman Michael Gurney said total containerized cargo for 2011 reached 410,469 loaded and empty TEUs. Two-thirds of the 209,744 TEUs in imports in the first 11 months went to the U.S. Midwest and one-third to Canada.
The port this year will break ground on a project to expand container capacity from 750,000 TEUs now to just more than 1 million. Further expansion will take place in “three or four years” to bring total capacity to well over 2 million TEUs, Gurney said.
At Halifax, containerized cargo declined 2 percent in the first 11 months of 2011, to 327,402 TEUs, and spokeswoman Michele Peveril said expectations are for a similar year in 2012. The port is looking to Asia for growth. “We are making some progress in becoming the east coast gateway for Asian trade (Southeast Asia) for North America,” she said. Asia accounts for about 43 percent of Halifax’s containerized imports and exports.
All four ports praised the service agreements their terminals have reached with Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways. Agreements generally feature performance standards for the provision of railcars and service on the rails’ side and provision of labor and equipment on the terminals’ side. Equipment dwell times now are among the best in North America, they said. “What you measure, you manage,” Xotto said.
Contact Courtney Tower at firstname.lastname@example.org.