The breakbulk vessel Cielo di San Francisco, preparing to embark on its maiden voyage from Vancouver, is marking a shift in trade patterns at Canada’s largest port.
The Italian-owned 36,826-deadweight-ton ship, just delivered from a Korean shipyard, was taking on 18 million board feet of lumber on Friday, a cargo that represents several developing shipping patterns:
-- Trade in lumber, once a staple of the breakbulk industry, in recent years had moved to containers. But soaring Chinese demand for Canadian lumber has outstripped container capacity, so four Canadian lumber companies chartered the breakbulk vessel for at least a year.
-- China’s lumber demand is just a part of its “insatiable” thirst for Canadian commodities – “energy, metals, fertilizers, agricultural products such as wheat and canola and pulses,” said Chris Badger, vice president of operations at Port Metro Vancouver.
-- China has supplanted Japan as “the No. 1 trading partner through our port, and is continuing to grow,” Badger said.
“Any available container is being filled right now,” he said as the Cielo di San Francisco took on its load at the Lynnterm forest products terminal. “We are way ahead of our own forecast of 3 percent to 5 percent container growth this year, at about 9 percent in the first quarter over the same period last year.”
The port in the first quarter handled 389,000 20-foot equivalent container units of inbound cargo, up 8 percent year-over-year, as export containers increase 10 percent, he said. “It is very balanced,” so there are no containers to spare, he said. Loadline Forest Carriers, the pooled management company set up by the four lumber firms, chartered the Cielo di San Francisco when container capacity tightened.
“The growth of the lumber market is massive, and this is a way for lumber companies to control their own logistics,” Loadline CEO Rob Fischer told The Journal of Commerce. “We’re building up to (chartering) a second ship, but one step at a time.”
Chinese demand for lumber has built up from almost nothing a few years ago to offset weaker demand in what has been for generations Canada’s primary market, the United States. Lumber exports by ship through Vancouver to Asia last year soared 32 percent to 3.33 million metric tons, and surged another 35 percent leap year-over-year in the last quarter.
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