Strong 2020 cargo volumes demonstrate the diversity and resiliency of the Port of Vancouver and port industries during a challenging year. Overall, cargo through the port increased by 1 per cent from 144.2 to 145.5 million metric tonnes (MMT) over the same time last year, with new annual records set for grain, potash, and containers.

Container quantities increased to 3.5 million 20-foot equivalents (TEUs), an increase of 2 per cent compared to the previous year. Imports increased 7 per cent to 1.9 million TEUs. Exports decreased 3 per cent to 1.6 million TEUs. The port authority recently updated its container forecasts and expects continued growth in this sector.

For the fifth year in a row, global demand for Canadian grain resulted in a new annual record of 35.1 MMT of grain shipped both in bulk ships and containers, an increase of  24 per cent or 6.8 MMT compared to the previous year. Increases in wheat, canola, and specialty crops contributed to the record. Fertilizer inputs were also up; potash exports increased by 11 per cent from last year’s record and sulphur increased by 8 per cent. Growth in total foreign exports resulted in a year-end record of 99 MMT, up 3 per cent, due to the increases in grain and fertilizers, as well as petroleum cargos.

Bulk liquid increased by 16 per cent over year-end 2019 due to an 18 per cent increase in petroleum products and a 16 per cent increase in canola oil.

Some cargo sector volumes declined as a result of challenges including impacts of the pandemic, railroad blockades, weather conditions, and terminal upgrades. Auto imports were down 18 per cent and export breakbulk forest products and coal were down 14 per cent and 15 per cent from the previous year, respectively. Breakbulk cargo decreased 3 per cent and wood pulp increased 8 per cent compared to 2019, while basic metals decreased 12 per cent.

With the cancellation of the cruise season, there were no cruise sailings in 2020. However, the port authority is working with cruise line customers and destination partners to be ready for the safe and sustainable return of cruise when the conditions are right.

“We welcome the announcement from Transport Canada on the lifting of the prohibition of cruise ships in Canadian waters effective November 1, 2021 and look forward to welcoming cruise guests back to Vancouver. As always, we remain committed to the safety of local communities and visitors in Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia,” said Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “We will continue to work together with all levels of government, communities, industry, destination and cruise partners to ensure a safe experience for passengers and the community and a successful restart of the cruise season in Vancouver.”

At the end of the first quarter in 2021, overall volumes were up 8.2 per cent compared to March 2020 year-to-date. Commodity groups showing growth included animal products, dairy and produce, consumer goods, forest products, grain and special crops, machinery and automobiles. Container TEUs were up 27 per cent at the end of the first quarter, with laden inbound up 29 per cent and outbound empties up 123 per cent.

Commodity groups showing decreases include petroleum products, processed foods, fertilizers, chemicals and basic metals. Coal volumes remained steady.

2021 mid-year cargo volumes will be released by the port authority in September.

“The efficient movement of goods through the port during the challenging circumstances of this past year was only possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of marine carriers and pilots, longshore workers, terminal operators, railway workers, trucking companies and drivers, along with many others who make up the port community,” said Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “We appreciate the work these groups, and all stakeholders and partners, including Indigenous Groups, labour and government, have done to keep the port open round the clock, day in and day out. They have helped keep Canadians across the country supplied with essential goods. It is the port community that is the driving factor in showcasing—and amplifying—the value that Canada’s largest port brings to this region, and to the country.”

Operations update

Wildfire activity and extreme weather conditions affecting railways throughout the British Columbia interior  caused service disruptions across the port supply chain in July and August. Rail delays led to longer dwells for carriers at anchor and heightened anchorage demand.  A return to cooler temperatures, along with rain in mid August led to a decrease in fire activity and risk, allowing for improved operations across the supply chain.

Visit the port authority website at to read the latest operations updates on issues affecting the Vancouver gateway.