Canadian port executives measure challenges of global changes
The 18 member ports of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) handled more than 310 million tonnes of cargo in 2014, with Vancouver and Montreal, the two largest, handling record volumes. But resting on one’s laurels is no option amidst fast-changing global trade and transportation trends, port executives from across Canada were told at the ACPA Annual Conference and AGM from September 29 to October 1.
Hosted by the Port of Montreal, the conference featured presentations and discussions encouraging port officials to think outside the box to remain competitive. Within the context of an overall theme of Pushing The Limits, business panels covered such subjects as the forces driving the logistics landscape, competitive challenges facing ports, maritime trade expanding more quickly than world GDP, community relations and the absolute requirement to join the social media revolution.
Transportation analyst Professor Claude Comtois from the Université de Montreal zeroed in on significant changes in global bulk logistics chains and seaborne trade that Canadian ports should take into consideration.
In particular, he singled out the impact on such ports as Sept-Iles of the prolonged plunge in world commodity prices and sharp decline in China’s imports of iron ore, On the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River, Sept-Iles has experienced a more than 25% drop in traffic. So has the Port of Quebec been hit by a big decrease in dry bulk cargo.
At the same time, China has been investing heavily in iron ore projects in Africa and South America to diversify its supplies.
While acknowledging that Canadian ports have been investing substantially to increase capacity in recent years, Comtois said these investments have paled in comparison to the giant infrastructure investments in China. “Innovation in dry bulk logistics is non-negotiable.”
Provision of deepwater and competitive infrastructure is central to the competitive position of a port along with the ability to berth the largest vessels on a particular trade, stressed Andrew Penfold, Director of UK-based Ocean Shipping Consultants Ltd.
St. Lawrence channel
to Montreal issue
In an interview with Canadian Shipper, Penfold suggested that “the channels on the St. Lawrence River leading to Montreal needed to be dredged up to two metres deeper to handle larger ships in order remain competitive in the North Atlantic trade with the Port of New York and New Jersey.” The latter has launched a capital program of several billion dollars to raise the Bayonne Bridge and provide a 50-ft deep channel.
In container shipping, Montreal at present accommodates vessels of up to 4,400-TEU capacity and could handle post-Panamax vessels up to 6,000 TEUs. But “workhorse” ships in the 8,000 TEU range are soon expected to become the norm on the East Coast of North America with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016.
The last time that important dredging was completed on the channel between Quebec City and Montreal was in 1999. The minimum depth was then increased to 11.3 metres (37 feet). Further dredging would require federal financing in the tens of millions of dollars – not presently on the radar screen in Ottawa.
As far as the West Coast is concerned, Bill Ralph, Maritime Economist with R.K. Johns Associates, pointed out that some 80 ships with average 10,000 TEU capacity are calling at the region’s ports on weekly rotations.
Extending market reach of ports
How can a port authority extend its hinterland and international market reach?
Here, Penfold says first of all, it is “vital to ensure correct marine facilities are available for current and future needs – i.e. water depth, cranes, equipment, etc.”
Secondly, one should provide “targeted port dues initiatives.”
Thirdly, a port authority should be commercially flexible amidst changing markets and adapt lease structures to the needs of the terminal operators.
Fourthly, anchor cargo by supporting investments – not just in road and rail but also inland terminals and distribution centres.
Eric Fournier, Founding Partner and Executive Producer of Moment Factory (and formerly with the Cirque du Soleil and Bombardier) offered a glimpse, complete with striking screen visuals, of today’s multi-media environments.
“All references are turning upside down,” Fournier said. “The job in life is really to bring people together. Part of the challenge of the new generation is that they want to have access to everyone. And even in the most complex of environments, creativity must have a say.”
Another way of saying one must push the limits