Demonstrating its economic resilience as Canada’s most diversified port, the Port of Vancouver’s volume remained steady at 136 million metric tonnes (MMT), a slight decrease of two per cent during the global economic downturn of 2016. Sectors that experienced declines were mitigated by records set in others. 2017 mid-year statistics reveal record-breaking volumes in containerized and bulk grain sectors, indicating strong growth for Canada’s largest port.

With a highly competitive geographic location, the port has three dedicated container terminals that offer transload, crossdocking, and warehousing facilities. The port boasts one of the lowest total delivered costs for containers destined for Eastern Canada and the American Midwest.

In 2016, total container volume declined by four per cent to 2.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) mainly due to a 33 per cent decline in empty containers compared to a year ago. Several factors impacted volumes, including reduced diversions from the U.S. West Coast and temporary capacity constraints as a result of construction.

By mid-2017, container quantities had recovered, increasing by 9.6 per cent to 1.6 million TEUs as a result of a stronger economy and solid export traffic. Moderate growth in container volumes is expected to continue.

Breakbulk volumes in this sector decreased by one per cent in 2016 as Canadian forest product exporters continue to face competition from Asian markets and low container freight rates draw exports to container mode. This trend continued in the first half of 2017, with a one per cent decline compared to the same period in 2016. A 3.6 per cent decrease in domestic traffic accounts for much of this decline.

Bulk cargo, both dry and liquid, accounts for two-thirds of the port’s annual tonnage, moving through nine separate terminals. Overall, there was a two per cent decline in bulk volumes in 2016, to 93.8 MMT. This was primarily driven by a decrease in coal volumes.

Even with the decrease in coal volumes, in 2016 the port exported nearly five million metric tonnes of metallurgical coal to China. Increases in coal exports were made possible by significant private investment, including $385 million at Westshore Terminals and $331 million at Neptune terminals.

Bulk cargo in 2016 was boosted by a one per cent increase in bulk grain to 22 million tonnes. This was a record for the third year in a row. Bulk specialty crops, including lentils and pulses also increased by 18 per cent to 4.2 MMT. Canola exports are up 19 per cent due to a surge in exports to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates—with an increase of 98 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.

Again, these numbers are expected to increase, with Richardson International’s $140 million investment to increase capacity from three million to five million tonnes; the $100 million Viterra Pacific Terminal ship loading systems upgrade; and the $750 million G3 Terminal. The G3 Terminal, with a capacity of eight MMT, is the first new grain terminal to be constructed at the port since the 1960s.

By mid-year 2017, bulk dry cargo volumes had increased by another five per cent, due to increases in grain, specialty crops, and feed. Specialty crops in the first half of 2017 had a 55 per cent increase, wheat five per cent, and coal recovered, increasing by seven per cent. This is the sixth consecutive year of record mid-year volumes in bulk grain. Mid-year 2017 represents at 12.9 per cent increase over mid-2016.

Bulk liquid tonnage was down by three per cent over mid-year 2016. This is due to an eight per cent decline in petroleum product cargo, which had risen sharply in 2015 in response to the Alberta wildfires.

Vancouver’s iconic Canada Place cruise terminal is home-port for the Vancouver-Alaska cruise industry, welcoming hundreds of thousands of passengers each season. In 2016, the port welcomed 826,820 passengers from 228 vessel visits—an increase of 2.7 per cent over 2015. Although there has been a six per cent decrease in the first half of 2017, passenger traffic is expected to steadily increase in 2018 and 2019 to nearly 900,000 and 970,000 passengers, respectively.

The port receives nearly 100 per cent of all Asian-manufactured imports destined for the Canadian market. In 2016, Canadian auto sales hit record levels. This helped boost the port’s auto sector volumes by two per cent to 393,280 vehicles. The market strength has continued in the first half of 2017 as auto volumes increased by 3.1 per cent compared to the first half of 2016.

Looking ahead

Significant volume increases in the container, bulk and auto sectors indicate continued growth at the port. Mid-year container results demonstrate the continued confidence of shippers in the port and its ability to handle growing demand. The global demand for Canadian agricultural products continues to be strong in 2017 and is reflected in record grain volumes. “The long-term outlook for Canadian trade is one of growth and the Port of Vancouver is working hard to ensure we will be ready to handle increased volumes through Canada’s West Coast,” said Silvester.