By Wendy Zatylny, President, Association of Canadian Ports Authorities

Canada is a trading nation. Together, imports and exports account for roughly two-thirds of our national income, and our ports play a vital role in facilitating Canada’s trade today.

Trade is our history and our legacy. It’s as much a part of the Canadian essence as hockey. Our country was explored, colonized and forged in response to commercial imperatives. The French and British set up vast trading networks to move the furs, timber, wheat and salt cod they wanted. The value chain stretched from the streams of the Rocky Mountains to the cane fields of Jamaica, with trips to Russia and England in between.

But we simply cannot rest on our laurels. The world is changing rapidly around us. Remaining competitive in the global market will require us to strengthen our port facilities and improve their supply chain efficiencies.

The Association of Canadian Port Authorities, as the voice of Canada’s 18 Port Authorities, is at the forefront of looking for innovative ways to develop sustainable maritime growth. This year’s 57th conference is the opportunity to “push the limits” by expanding our thinking and looking for ways to pair 21st century trade with 21st century supply chain efficiency and excellence.

And a key component of this preparation will be improving the ability of our ports to handle even more cargo. Currently, more than $400 billion worth of goods are shipped or received through our facilities each year. The waterways link us to trading partners in more than 160 countries, and our ports handle over 60 percent of Canada’s waterborne cargo.

In the process, we create 250,000 direct and indirect jobs that pay higher-than-average wages. And with every one million tonnes of new cargo at Canada’s ports generating 300 new jobs, we are barely scratching the surface of our true potential.

The Government Canada has been a commendable partner. It worked with Canada’s Ports to embed a Canadian trade commissioner within the ports system. This is exactly the creative thinking and commitment we are looking for from our partners as we prepare for expanded global trade that will come through Canada’s ports.

Working from offices at the Port of Halifax, the trade commissioner will provide client services to Canadian ports and companies trying to grow internationally. They will also gain a better understanding of how our sector works, our key value-add and how government can help us provide better service to the logistics chain.

And we, of course, appreciate having a trade commissioner on hand to provide experience and advice on ways to leverage the benefits of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

CETA is expected to increase bilateral trade by 20 percent and grow Canada’s GDP by $12 billion – and it is just one of several agreements signed. But to truly seize these opportunities we must expand and strengthen our port facilities and improve supply chain efficiencies. It will also require a harmonious working relationship with the communities in which we are located.

It’s a tall order, requiring a bit of give and take here, and some consensus building there. But I believe that the port authorities are well-positioned to serve as the honest broker as we work together to tap the opportunities before us.

We need to stop viewing ports as merely the physical location where cargo is transhipped. We are at the nexus of the logistics system – a position that gives us an intimate understanding and the deep expertise required to move containers, cars and bulk cargo efficiently.

We become logistics experts because we have our finger on the pulse of the entire chain. We become the liaison at the centre of multi-modal hubs, and we help partners within the supply chain to collaborate to eliminate the bottlenecks.

Canada’s Port Authorities are ready to seize the initiative and build upon Canada’s rich trading legacy. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why Canada’s ports are firmly looking at the long-view when it comes to keeping up with fierce global competition.