Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel was once again the location of the Shipping Federation of Canada’s annual conference and luncheon, which took place under the theme of Ocean Shipping Outlook. The conference was opened via video link by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who underlined the strong and collaborative relationship between Transport Canada and the Federation, and drew particular attention to recent developments related to commercial navigation through the Northwest Passage.

Peter Kerr-Dineen, Chairman of Howe Robinson Shipbrokers in London, then provided an overview of what the future holds for the bulk and container sectors, noting that excess capacity in both markets will remain a fact of life for some time, making it difficult to address the ongoing imbalance between supply and demand. With respect to the dry bulk sector, he noted that any future growth (or contraction) in this sector will be closely linked to developments in China, where previously explosive demand for iron ore has reached its saturation point, prompting a number of iron ore exporters to rethink their investments in future projects. On a more positive note, there are indications that Chinese demand for grain could increase significantly in the foreseeable future. With respect to the container market, Kerr-Dineen noted that falling oil prices have led to a notable increase in demand on key container routes into Europe and the U.S., while supply and demand in the market as a whole are expected to undergo a sustained (if not immediate) recovery in the coming years.

Alexis Ségal, Vice-President of Communications and External Relations for Rio Tinto Alcan, then took the stage to provide an overview of Rio Tinto’s efforts to weather the economic challenges that have characterized the global business environment in recent years. Those efforts have been centred on reducing costs to the greatest extent possible with a focus on products with higher margins. He noted that the company is also continuously on the lookout for opportunities in new and developing markets, which it views as the best means of countering the effects of existing markets that have fully matured.

The conference was capped off with a keynote presentation by Keith Creel, President and Chief Operating Officer of CP Rail, who highlighted CP’s efforts to increase its share of the freight market by optimizing assets, enhancing efficiency, capitalizing on its intermodal connections, and focusing first and foremost on customer service. Creel identified rail as a key element of Canada’s trade agenda, noting that “the efficiency of our supply chains in marine shipping is as much a value add as trade agreements that support our exports.”