By Alex Binkley
Ottawa–The Shipping Federation of Canada (SFC) has requested Transport Canada change the Coasting Trade Act so marine carriers aren’t stuck with unnecessary costs in repositioning containers among Eastern Canadian ports. SFC President Michael Broad says the container lines want to be able to use their own ships to move empty containers rather than having to move them by road or rail or bring them from foreign ports.

montreal port authoritySpeaking in an interview about his presentation to a conference sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation in North America, Broad said the change would be a boon to Canadian exporters who would be able to tap more quickly into the usual stockpile of empty containers in Canada. The lines have up to 70,000 empty containers to reposition among Montreal, Halifax and Saint John, N.B. every year. However they can’t do it themselves under the rules of the Coasting Trade Act, which prevents foreign-flagged ships from carrying cargo between Canadian ports. That law is meant to protect Canadian shipping lines, but they have told Transport Canada they support the SFC’s request because their vessels are designed to move bulk and liquid cargoes and not containers. “The cost of repositioning the containers by road or rail is substantial,” Broad says in an interview. “The government is looking to cut red tape that burdens businesses with unnecessary costs. Well, here’s an easy one to fix.”
The problem lies with Transport Canada lawyers who have deemed empty containers to be cargo and not conveyances, he says. “Therefore, to get empty containers into Atlantic Canada, our members have to re-position them from outside of Canada, like the United States or Europe. A change in this legislation could make exports from Atlantic Canada more competitive.”
Empty containers are frequently in oversupply in Ontario and Quebec because of more imports than exports of finished goods. “We would be a lot more competitive if we could reposition the empty containers here rather than bringing them in from overseas.” The Coasting Trade Act is intended to protect the business of Canadian shipping lines from cheap foreign flagged ships, not give truckers and railways extra traffic that really belongs to the shipping lines, he added.
When asked for a response to the SFC, Transport Canada said in an email, “At this time, the department is still assessing the merits of certain aspects of this proposal in consultation with other government departments and agencies as well as with other stakeholders. No decision has been made at this stage.”