By Christopher Williams

“Strengthening North/South Trade Links” was this year’s theme for Saint John Port Days, focusing on connections with Latin America and the Caribbean and strategies to enhance partnerships. Part of the annual event included a meeting with delegates from ten South American firms to discuss trade through the twinned ports of Saint John and Santos, Brazil. Brazilian coffee supplier Coccamp Ltd. confirmed it will set up shop in Canada this summer in either Toronto or Saint John and more opportunities are in the works.

After a spectacular day of golf and a river boat cruise, Port Days got down to business with an uptempo presentation by Wendy Zatylny, Executive Director, Association of Canadian Port Authorities. She congratulated Saint John for its 102-per-cent container traffic growth over the past year, which she described as “an incredible achievement given current global economic conditions.”

“Continue to do what we’re doing here,” Zatylny told the transportation audience. “Meet with your partners, suppliers and customers and trust one another enough to share information that previously had been considered sensitive and proprietary,” she advised. “Keep one another in the loop and share best practices. Explore common solutions to mutual challenges because we have to cooperate to compete.”

Specifically on north/south trade, Sanjeev Chowdhury, Consul General of Canada, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, advised the audience to encourage more regional firms to export value-added goods and diversify. “And, if there is one thing you remember from today, it’s that in Brazil we don’t do business with companies, we work with people,” said Chowdhury, underscoring Zatylny’s message. “It’s about building relationships and the process begins by identifying companies and entrepreneurs with the best potential to pursue export opportunities, followed by a series of steps to assess, motivate, develop and support them in becoming successful exporters to attract sales.”

Chowdhury emphasized that Saint John is a shorter distance for containers travelling from Brazil to Atlantic Canada than to many American ports, including Miami. “The fact is, in nautical miles, you have to go around a number of islands from Brazil to get to Miami,” he observed. Port Saint John is already twinned with Port of Santos near São Paulo, Brazil, the busiest container port in Latin America just 79 kilometres away from the state capital.

Brazil is Canada’s 11th largest trade partner with 171 per cent growth in Canadian exports between 2001 and 2012. New Brunswick exports $159 million in goods a year to Brazil, mainly building materials and potash. Provincial exports also include energy, chemical and forest products, consumer goods, agriculture and seafood. David Alward, Premier of New Brunswick, who spoke at the Port Days luncheon, said his government would like to double that figure in five years. A second New Brunswick potash mine is gearing up to double drybulk exports through Port Saint John to southern destinations that need the fertilizer to grow crops to feed the196 million people in Brazil, not to mention other South American countries.

Chowdhury added that ports in Brazil are under strain with congested intermodal connections, 20-kilometre truck lineups to get into the port of Santos and some ships waiting up to 30 days to get a berth. Fortunately, the President of Brazil is injecting another $26.1 billion to improve port infrastructure by 2020. The second chapter in President Rousseff’s “Investment in Logistics Program”, $100 billion is budgeted over the next 25 years to improve Brazilian transportation infrastructure. “Brazil traded inside the region for many years but now depends on commodity exports and higher growth rates,” Chowdhury noted.

Another engaging Port Days panelist was Joel Richardson, Executive Director, Export Development with the New Brunswick Department of Economic Development, who highlighted the province’s Global Market Growth Strategy, noting that New Brunswick is Canada’s top seafood exporter to Asia and other markets. “Latin regions offer Canada more free trade agreements than all other countries in the world combined,” said Richardson, who echoed Chowdhury’s advice to focus on valued-added products. “We are connecting buyers to sellers and our goal is to have 175 more New Brunswick firms exporting by 2018.”

Like Brazil, Dominican Republic has free trade incentives and its 584 companies are strategically located for north/south trade. Morten Johansen, Executive Director and Vice-President, DP World Caucedo, said his port handled 1.2 million TEUs in 2012. There are opportunities to expand berth capacity into the future and ships can also now pass right through the Panama Canal.

Costa Rica, about the size of Nova Scotia, also has trade agreements with Canada resulting in one-million-kilos-per-month of frozen potato imports. “That’s a lot of fries”, said Alex Leon, Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. “We are also keen on importing information communications technology, voice-over IP, building products and clean tech such as wastewater treatment systems.”

Wayne T. Power, Group Vice-President, Transportation and Logistics Division with J.D. Irving, Limited, pitched local shippers to take advantage of Saint John’s strong intermodal links for exports. “We are among the most integrated logistic group anywhere in North America with access to four class-one railroads, towage and offshore support,” said Power, pointing out that JDI has 400 employees in Atlantic Canada and grew its national transportation staff by 80 per cent in 2012.

Michael Broad, President, Shipping Federation of Canada, outlined how the organization is continuing to lobby for improved policies, procedures and timelines that encourage international trade. He said ports with more than one stevedore, strong intermodal connections and a flexible work force have the key ingredients to attract new business.

The business panel at Saint John Port Days was followed by a luncheon discussion with David Alward, Premier of New Brunswick and Mel Norton, Mayor of Saint John. They praised the Saint John community for showing support for what is now referred to as the Energy East Pipeline, endorsed by Alberta Premier Alison Redford at a Saint John Board of Trade reception two days prior to Port Days. Mayor Norton concurred that Alberta knows they have a social license for the project in region. Extending an existing pipeline to Saint John would create an estimated 5,700 construction jobs and supply eastern refineries with up to 850,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Trans-Canada’s 4,400-kilometre west-to-east pipeline proposal is speculative, but nations such as India are aggressively seeking new energy suppliers and Canadian oil producers are losing billions in potential revenue due to a lack of pipeline capacity. Andrew Dixon, Senior Vice-President, Planning and Development at Port Saint John, told the Port Days audience that “logistics is founded in the word logic and it’s logical to build the pipeline where there are no restrictions on volume and market. It will be a game changer in the sector,” he said.

Dixon, who is also incoming Vice-Chair of the Cruise Committee with the American Association of Port Authorities, said Saint John’s cruise sector continues to thrive. A Cruise Homeport Study is now underway to determine whether passengers can disembark on cruises from Port Saint John rather than just receive American and international cruise lines. Cruise passengers traffic grew by about 3,000 people in 2012, with 187,901 passengers, slightly lower than the port’s peak year in 2010, with 205,000 passengers.

Jim Quinn, the Port’s President and CEO, says 2012’s tonnage dropped slightly to 27.7 million metric tonnes compared with 31 million metric tonnes handled in 2011, but said “2011 was an exceptional year for petroleum products” shipped through Irving Oil terminals. Peter Gaulton, the Port’s Chairman, said he is optimistic about the direction Port Saint John is heading.

Port Saint John container tonnage was up 102 per cent at end of May and the Saint John Port Authority fittingly presented Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) with the “Port Award of the Year” for its commitment to grow regional business. MSC jumped from biweekly to weekly service last fall with the success of its Montreal, Saint John, Caucedo, Dominican Republic route. Tropical Shipping, a major sponsor of Saint John Port Days, continues its successful weekly container service out of Saint John to Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean, as well as providing inter-island transportation services throughout the region.