Unlike in the U.S., foreign container lines can’t reposition empty containers at Canadian ports, and the result is additional rail and truck costs that often are passed to shippers. The Shipping Federation of Canada wants that to change and is pressuring the government to amend the Coasting Trade Act, the country’s major domestic maritime law.
The SFC is urging Transport Canada, the department tasked with transportation policy and regulation, to deem containers as a means of conveyance instead of as cargo, a definition akin to the one used in the U.S. Jones Act.
The SFC hasn’t calculated how much the industry could save if the foreign carriers were allowed to reposition containers, nor does it know how many total containers are repositioned via truck and rail annually, federation President Michael Broad said. But that 75,000 containers are repositioned annually in eastern Canada for trade tied just to Europe and the U.S. indicates the magnitude of surface moves, particularly because Canadian west coast moves and Asian trade aren’t part of that figure.
The SFC said it hopes the Canadian Shipowners Association’s recent change of heart on the matter will prove to the government that a rule change won’t hurt the domestic maritime sector. Broad said the domestic maritime industry realizes the repositioning of empty containers is a market it won’t be able to capture profitably.
Boosting Canada’s ability to export, particularly to Asia, is a hallmark of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration. Most recently, Canada kicked in $19.9 million toward a $45 million overpass aimed at expanding capacity and speeding up the movement of containers at Port Metro Vancouver’s Deltaport Container Terminal.
The Harper government has spent $1.4 billion on nearly 50 export-focused infrastructure projects valued at more than $3.3 billion. Allowing foreign carriers to reposition empty containers, proponents argue, would further the government’s mission but for far less money.