by Mark Cardwell


When she made her first appearance at a Canada Maritime Conference in 2010, Dawn Desjardins told delegates that the usual markers of national and international economic activity pointed to a robust 3-per-cent growth in the economies of both the United States and Canada during the following year.

It turned out, however, that the American economy grew only 1.8 per cent in 2011, the Canadian 2.6 per cent.

“The forecast didn’t pan out,” Desjardins, Assistant Chief Economist of the Royal Bank of Canada, acknowledged in a recent interview from her office in downtown Toronto. “But considering the disappointing performances, [in global economic activity] Canada managed to do pretty well.”

The question now, she added, is whether Canada can continue to do well in these troubling times. “I think it will,” said Desjardins, a former Bloomberg Financial News reporter and bond market specialist, who is best known in international financial circles and among fiscal policy makers for her interest rate-guiding macroeconomic forecasts for Canada and the U.S. “But there are some strong headwinds blowing in the world economy.”

Those risks and dangers will be a major focus of the economic review and forecast for Canada and its trading partners that Desjardins will deliver at the Canada Maritime Conference in Mississauga on November 7. She will share the stage at the conference’s opening session with Ruth Snowden, Executive Director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association – or CIFFA.

Sponsored by Port Saint John and moderated by Chris Brooks, Executive Editor of The Journal of Commerce (JOC), which organizes the conference, the 3-hour morning session will feature speeches, round-table discussions and question-and-answer periods that are expected to both lead and set the tone for the remaining day and a half of the annual Canadian maritime transportation and trade industry get-together.

Other major sessions at the conference – all of which feature leading representatives and experts within each sector – include an up-to-date and in-depth look at the state of Canada’s waterfront and transportation labour environment, a discussion on Canada’s international trade agreements and trade development, and a review of Canada’s trade and transportation sectors.

Creating an Integrated Supply Chain – a session that features luminaries among ocean carriers, terminals, railroads and retailers, like COSCO Executive Vice-President Dave Bedwell, Maher Terminals Vice-President and General Manager, Operations, Mark Schepp, Port of Prince Rupert President and CEO Don Krusel, as well as Jean-Jacques Ruest, Chief Marketing Officer of CN – is also on the agenda.

The final session on November 8 will provide the latest information with regards to the shrinking of the Polar ice cap, the opening of the legendary Northwest Passage sea route, and its impact on the marine industry and the global economy. It will feature a panel of Arctic transportation experts led by John Higginbotham, Senior Distinguished Fellow, Transportation Policy, at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who stepped down in 2008 as President and CEO of Toronto Port Authority – the first female harbourmaster in the Port’s 101-year history – to make the first of two successful runs for a seat in the House of Commons with the Conservative Party, is scheduled to give the conference’s closing speech.

“I think we’ve managed to put together a very interesting and compelling line-up of topics and speakers,” said Barry Horowitz, a transportation expert and monthly columnist for JOC, who also produces meetings such as the Canada Maritime Conference. After graduation from McGill University, Horowitz started his international transportation and trade career in Montreal in 1971 and since then, in addition to holding senior positions with international ocean carriers like Hapag-Lloyd and Zim, as well as with Nike and Direct Line Cargo Management Services, he has become a leading expert and consultant in forwarding and customs brokerage, and has taught and/or written about supply chain management, logistics, transportation and trade for UCLA, Washington State University, Marine Digest and JOC. Horowitz said the central focus of the Mississauga meeting is to update delegates on the key issues that affect the Canadian marketplace, trade and the transportation of goods by water. “Canada is a big commodity nation,” Horowitz said from Portland, where he runs a home-based consulting business that helps importers, exporters, forwarders and ports in Oregon and elsewhere to develop strategies and programs for the full range of supply chain management and international trade. “Time is valuable and budgets are constrained [so] these events are designed to provide timely and relevant information from the top people across the spectrum on issues that impact maritime transportation.”

In addition to the forecast and discussion on global trade and economics, he predicts delegate interest will be highest for sessions that deal with critical Canadian issues such as the movement of goods, the climatic changes in the Arctic, and labour – a topic that has once again become a front-burner issue in the wake of this year’s Canadian Pacific strike and the threat of a far bigger strike in U.S. ports along the East Coast.

The opening session, Horowitz noted, is a note-perfect beginning to what he thinks will be two stimulating days of discussion. In addition to the economic review and forecast from Desjardins, it will feature a presentation on the challenges and opportunities of marine cargo by Ruth Snowden, whose organization represents more than 250 freight-forwarding member-firms in the global supply chain.

“Risks and risk management will be the key elements of my talk,” Snowden said in October from Los Angeles, where she was attending FIATA, the world’s leading annual forum on freight logistics.

According to Snowden, international freight forwarding has moved from a transportation intermediary to a global community of service providers in a fast-paced and rapidly evolving world.

“Importers and exporters look to our members to help them meet the many challenges that everyone now faces in global trade,” she said. “Ten years ago, all they needed to know was that you had a market for their goods. Today, you need to rely on experts who know what’s going on in everything from regulatory compliance and risks to the volatility of rates, equipment availability, slow steaming or super-slow steaming – you name it.”

She added that some factors – notably the threatened East Coast strikes, which were delayed for 90 days in September but are forcing carriers to consider and/or make routing decisions and related notices of fare changes, are robbing many company executives of sleep these days. “The [strike threat] has caused a big kerfuffle in the industry,” said Snowden. “Freight forwarders are caught in the middle because they must make decisions and alternative arrangements in the event of a strike.”

In addition to concerns over that volatility, Snowden said she will make CMC delegates aware of the many risks freight forwarders are now facing on the subject of demurrage and detention fees on containers and the responsibilities and risks associated with bills of lading.

She also plans to touch on the regulatory burden under which international traders and freight forwarders are today and how they are changing business practices in the industry.

She will also provide an update on the eManifest initiative, which is right now being implemented for highways and will be introduced to the marine industry on a voluntary basis in April 2013 before becoming mandatory in July 2014.

By then, of course, the performance of the global economy will have played a major impact on the kinds and volumes of goods that will be moving around the globe by water. According to Desjardins, the signs of global economic growth should not have transportation companies in Canada and the United States feeling overly optimistic.

“I think we’re past some of the worst problems, but we’re not looking for robust growth in Europe [and] only about 2.25 per cent in the U.S. and 2.5 per cent in Canada,” she said. “But the way things have been going lately, anything with a positive sign is good.”