By Brian Dunn

This year will be remembered as one of the worst on record for the global economy due to Covid-19. For CargoM, the Logistics and Transportation Cluster of Metropolitan Montreal, it was only one of three events that impacted business.  “Not only were we affected by Covid-19, we also got hit by the rail blockade (in February) and by the (August) strike at the Port of Montreal,” said CargoM Executive Director Mathieu Charbonneau. “The port estimates its business will be down about 12 per cent as a result.”

In an effort to get the local economy back up to steam, CargoM is taking part in RelançonsMTL (RelaunchMTL), an initiative launched by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal to identify business opportunities to revive the economy and become more innovative and resilient. Relaunch will create a forum for discussions between multiple sectors, encourage sharing best practices and know-how, and to propose tangible actions to help decision-makers. It will target 14 sectors of the economy, including, aerospace, transport and logistics, tourism, retail and construction. A virtual forum on transport and logistics is scheduled for Nov. 20.

CargoM and Port of Montreal have received $500,000 in funding from Scale AI to optimize the identification and prioritization of critical cargo arriving in containers at the port to ensure the rapid distribution of essential goods, such as medical equipment and food products during the pandemic. Scale AI is Canada’s AI supercluster, consisting of private entities, research centres, academia and promising startups, that provides funding and expertise to help Canada stay ahead of the AI curve. Eight projects, including CargoM’s, have received a total of $3.4 million to find solutions to help Canadian industry meet challenges through technology and AI. “We will focus on the logistics chain by providing advanced information to logistic partners to better position containers,” explained Mr. Charbonneau. “For example, a container may contain gloves, but are they baseball gloves or medical gloves? We’ll also use AI tools for critical goods such as the agri-business.”

Last year CargoM commissioned a study to determine the future cold storage needs and opportunities in Greater Montreal. The study by CPCS estimated refrigerated products traffic will grow by 1.3 per cent annually. It has often been reported that bottlenecks are mainly due to the misalignment of opening hours between port terminals and certain logistics centres, as well as traffic congestion at the port approaches. And profit margins are slim even with storage capacity in Montreal strained, the study noted. Some stakeholders are looking to increase their storage capacity, but construction constraints of municipal bylaws would prevent developers from building facilities that would allow projects to be fully cost-effective. However, the study concluded the port is still well positioned as a logistics hub for refrigerated products.

The following opportunities were identified to improve the refrigerated logistics chain, and support the development of the agri-food sector.

  • Harmonize business hours with the participation of the parties concerned.
  • Reduce road congestion.
  • Reduce road transportation costs in Montreal.
  • Improve access to the port.
  • Develop efficient maritime services to the countries targeted by exporters.
  • Promote Quebec’s competitive advantages in energy.
  • Study the market for the construction of refrigerated warehouses in a public-private partnership.

The Montreal area Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) launched last year is fully operational, according to Mr. Charbonneau. Under its designation, the purchase or import of raw materials, inputs or finished products are exempt from custom duties and taxes, until they are re-exported. The FTZ is designed to attract importers and exporters, manufacturers and distribution centres and to increase international competitiveness. It is the first Canadian member of the World Free Zone Organization whose objective is to make the group’s training and networking known to smaller importers and exporters.

With a new dedicated website for the FTZ, CargoM now has three sites,, and to serve its members, its partners as well as the logistics and freight transportation sector of the Greater Montreal area.

On the environmental front, CargoM, in collaboration with Logistics in Wallonia, Belgium, (LiW) has launched the “Lean and Green” program in Quebec, which certifies CargoM as a logistics entity to reduce emissions not just from vehicles, but also to manage freight movements more efficiently. The overall goal of LiW is to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 20 per cent over five years.

Moving forward, five key actions have been identified as the most important for CargoM’s 2020-2022 strategic plan.

Attract and develop a logistics centre (like the Savannah, GA model), to align all the initiatives of sector development opportunities (FTZ centre, innovation, terminal opening hours, etc.) and present “success stories.”

  • Promote the players in the supply chain, particularly stakeholders in the e-commerce sector.
  • Research and develop of tools to improve fluidity of freight movements.
  • Develop a digital platform to collect, analyze and share data.
  • Promote workforce training, as well as raise awareness of under-represented target sector opportunities.