By Tom Peters

Québec Port Authority (QPA) has announced plans to build a container terminal at the site of the Beauport 2020 project which adds to a growing list of container terminal projects already proposed for Eastern Canada.

Montreal Port Authority has proposed a 1.15 million TEU terminal for Contrecoeur; Saint John Port Authority has launched a $205 million expansion project which includes increasing its TEU capacity; Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) has proposed an ultra modern terminal for Sydney, Cape Breton, with a capacity of one million TEUs in the first phase and 3.2 million TEUs at final build out; Melford International Terminal, based in Halifax, plans to build a modern terminal at the Strait of Canso, with a capacity of 500,000 TEUs in the first phase and 2 million TEUs at build out; and there is speculation that the Halifax Port Authority will announce an expansion of its container terminal facilities as part of its soon-to-be-released long term strategy. The port has a present capacity in excess of one million TEUs. There has even been mention of a proposal to build a container transhipment facility on the French island of St. Pierre.

The Quebec project calls for a $400 million investment which includes a 600-metre extension of the wharf line; development of a 17-hectare logistics and distribution area behind the wharf and link-up with existing rail and road networks. The Port states that this project could potentially create a new international economic hub geared toward logistics, distribution centers and new businesses.

QPA President and CEO Mario Girard said in a press release that the port has all the strategic advantages needed to carry out this major project. With its water depth of 15 meters and full intermodality, Québec City has a distinctive advantage in the St. Lawrence–Great Lakes trade corridor.

Mr. Girard said the opening of the new 15-meter-deep Panama Canal in 2016 and the emergence of next-generation ships requiring deep-water ports, is completely changing the landscape of commercial shipping. This new 15-meter standard makes it harder for the St. Lawrence, as it currently stands, to compete with American ports in the container market. The Port said Québec City must get on board, and leverage its strategic geographic location on the shortest route between Europe and the St. Lawrence–Great Lakes region, which is home to over 40 per cent of U.S. manufacturing industry.

“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity here and we have all we need to succeed,” said Girard. “Our vision is simple and strategic: make Québec City a hub for maritime logistics on the continent. We’ll succeed by rallying around this promising project. And in this vein, I’m reaching out to all stakeholders in the St. Lawrence so we can all work together to promote the St. Lawrence. More than ever, we must join forces to make the St. Lawrence more competitive,” he said.

However, a marine industry insider who wished to remain anonymous, was at odds as to where the cargo growth would come from to support all these proposed terminals.

“They are all crunching the same numbers so who is going to win,” he said. “One has to remember the total container market in Eastern Canada is about 2 million TEUs vs 4 million on the West Coast. One must wonder where the growth is going to come from to sustain even one of these projects. I think everyone had been pinning hopes on the Asia-Suez and there is still lots of Asia-Suez traffic happening, but I think Panama has reasserted itself after the Bayonne Bridge (New York) was raised and after the Panama expanded,” he said. The marine consultant questioned if growth would come from “our free trade agreement with the EU (European Union), from the Indian Subcontinent, from Africa, from Asia, or are the Canadian ports going to pick away from US East Coast ports?”

The consultant wondered if Quebec was banking on getting some of the bigger ships coming on stream or will they pursue Great Circle Route services with a deviation to Quebec City “and if that is the case they will compete with Sydney, Melford and Halifax,” or will Quebec compete with Montreal for cargo. “My guess is they will try and compete with Montreal,” he said.

In terms of being a hub, the consultant said Quebec is “that much further away from the market so you add some costs for rail services which is actually the same equation for Melford and Sydney.”

Port of Québec’s core business has been bulk commodities such as iron ore and grain. Average annual throughput is about 25-26 million tonnes.