With a continually improving economy, the St. Lawrence Seaway could handle 40 million tonnes of cargo this year or close to the pre-2008 level, The Canadian Club of Montreal was told during a March 26 luncheon speech by Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

“We went up 3 per cent last year (to 37.5 million tonnes) and 19 per cent the year previous and I think the economy in the U.S. is more positive than what people are saying,” he said following his speech. “They’re still calling for some low economic growth numbers, but I think the U.S. is going to surprise us.”

Turning to Europe where zero growth is forecasted, Bowles believes the EU is getting its house in order and will be helped by an improving U.S. economy.

The Seaway’s fortunes could also be improved by warmer temperatures, which could extend the shipping season.

“We at the Seaway are gradually improving our capability to operate through colder temperatures. Every year we install more bubblers to keep the water circulating and we heat locks and that type of thing. We’re getting better at it and the weather is of course cooperating.”

And Bowles sees more opportunities to entice new business through the Seaway as highways and bridges, particularly around Montreal, become more congested.

“It’s a very competitive business, be it trucks, be it rail. These are very competitive transportation modes and it’s tough to get people to switch. But as the economy improves, it will help us. When the economy went down, it took the pressure off the roads. But it’s all coming back which will help make these opportunities (for shipping) a reality.”

In his speech entitled, “The St. Lawrence Seaway: Not Just a Marine Highway – Transforming National Infrastructure Into a Lever for International Trade,” Bowles noted that most Canadians are unaware of how important the Seaway is to the Canadian economy, supporting 227,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S., including 35,000 in Quebec alone.

“As economic growth is rapidly shifting to emerging markets in Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa, I believe the Seaway will play a very important role in enabling Canadian businesses to diversify their trading relationships,” said Bowles. “In fact, this is a top priority of the federal government which has signed six free trade agreements since 2009 and is negotiating 14 more.”

“Global trade patterns are changing. TD Economics recently predicted that due to strong growth in emerging markets overseas, the share of Canadian exports heading to these countries will increase markedly. This all bodes well for the Seaway”, Bowles pointed out.

“Increased production and trading activity with emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East will favour trade connections to North America’s East Coast, including routes that transit the Panama and Suez Canals. The Seaway system is perfectly positioned to connect the North American heartland with these fast-growing industrial and consumer economies.”