By Christopher Williams

Between June 8 and 10, Port Saint John and its partners hosted a community day, river cruise, golf tournament, export awards, seafood fiesta, business panel session, and a keynote speech by the leader of the Energy East project. The annual event focused on the transportation tenets of “Community, Connections, and Commerce”, but Come Together by the Beatles could have been the event’s theme song.

The well-attended business session hosted by Geoff Britt of J.D. Irving Limited, included such panelists as Amanda Neadow, Director of Advocacy, Canadian Importers and Exporters Association. “Arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity,” Neadow paraphrased, as she outlined Canadian trade programs strengthened over the past decade. “But companies should not try to expand in a global market on their own. Do your homework and get in touch with service providers with expertise in markets and knowledge of regulations, risks and liabilities. It’s a challenge but it can be done,” she encouraged.

Michel Têtu, a former diplomat and consultant in trade and international relations, agreed the game is improving for shippers as he touted the benefits of CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union agreed to in principle last fall, but not yet ratified. “NAFTA is an unfinished masterpiece, but CETA is a great agreement by significantly removing tariffs and trade barriers,” said Têtu. With about 40,000 exporters in Canada, there are “few losers” with CETA according to Têtu who said the agreement “aims very high” for Atlantic Canada with “big winners” in fisheries, forestry and transportation sectors which receive between 10 and 20 per cent improvements in tariff and non-tariff decreases.

Salsa Dancing with Latin America

Dale Thibodeau, President of Thibodeau & Associates, said Saint John is ideally situated as an eastern entry point for Brazil as well as an export port to congested eastern markets in Boston and New York. “I was in Brazil last fall and was just blown away but the opportunities,” said Thibodeau, who started his career unloading trucks and containers. “Because the cost of transportation can be 40 per cent of revenues, it is important for Atlantic Canada to be more competitive in the global market by keeping supply chain costs down. It’s important to find the sweet spots and niches that work well for truck and rail connections. You’ve got to educate yourself so you can negotiate from a position of strength and reduce empty miles. Temperature control is also important as a day less shipping is another day of shelf life for products,” Thibodeau added.

Dan Bresolin, Director of Marketing, CN Railway, said the fierce winter was a short-term challenge for shippers “unlike anything in the last 60 years!” All the same, Bresolin is seeing tremendous growth in Atlantic Canada with Costco, Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Company and Tropical Shipping. “About 21 per cent of our business involves intermodal transit, so the entire transport experience from ocean, to truck and rail requires vigilance.”

Port Saint John has charted unprecedented growth in its container sector with increases of 60 per cent over 2012 statistics, yet Bresolin says there are further opportunities to grow traffic. “Together we have the power of the supply chain. We need to work together on product innovation and joint marketing efforts; how to be faster, and look at domestic markets that can be developed. We all need to be on the gateway team.”

Shannon Blanchard, Port Saint John’s Manager of Cargo Development, concurred during the break: “Working together toward the same goal is far more important than working toward it separately.”

Raymond Johnston, Executive Vice-President of Green Marine Management Corporation, was also a panelist and his organization held its 7th annual GreenTech environmental conference the next day. Johnston discussed the program’s steady improvements in integrating sustainable development practices and admits the list of regulations is getting longer. “People expect good environmental performance and the industry gets it. Reducing air emissions is a good thing,” he said. Green Marine and the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to advance environmental sustainability at Canadian Ports in Saint John on June 11.

The sizeable Port Days luncheon audience was attentive to a forthright presentation by Francois Poirier, the recently minted President of TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline project. Poirier has overall responsibility for the pipeline which will extend approximately 4,600 km from receipt points in Alberta and Saskatchewan to provide Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and Bakken crude oil to refineries in Eastern Canada including the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, Canada’s largest.

Energy East seeks social acceptance

In a joint venture with Irving Oil, TransCanada estimates there will be $2 billion in GDP for New Brunswick and $10 billion across Canada over the first six years including 10,000 direct jobs if the project proceeds, and is accompanied by a $300 million marine terminal. “The merits from a technical standpoint, from a supply and demand standpoint, are very strong” said Poirier. But much of his presentation was about building trusting relationships. Safety is also a top priority and TransCanada says it will continue to invest in new technology. “We’re being held accountable, and we should be, to do this in as safe a manner and as environmentally responsible a manner as possible,” Poirier added. “There will be no one-size fits all approach.” Poirier noted his company is actively engaging 16 aboriginal communities in New Brunswick about the project. “It’s about social acceptance and we need to work together to build strong relationships and we look forward to doing that right here in Saint John.”

Refineries in eastern Canada imported 642,000 barrels of crude oil per day in 2013 from foreign sources as there is currently no pipeline infrastructure that connects western Canadian crude oil supply to this market. Irving Oil Ltd. currently imports 100 million barrels of crude oil a year mainly from Saudi Arabia, Angola, Nigeria and South America. Liquid bulk, especially in the form of oil and gas, is a cargo mainstay at Port Saint John.

Containers and bulk cargo still crucial

As the platinum sponsor of Saint John Port Days, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) celebrated its second year calling Saint John on a weekly basis. The international company recently provided additional equipment in Saint John to meet growing customer needs. “Containers are of ever increasing importance at Port Saint John but we are still primarily a bulk port,” said Peter Gaulton, Chairman of Saint John Port Authority board. “Last year, our dry bulk sector also grew with increases in recycled metal (203 per cent), potash and salt (15.3 per cent),” Gaulton said.

Port Saint John experienced a recent dip in its cruise business but has taken a leadership role with other ports to collectively influence regulators in the Canada and the U.S. to look at alternatives to cruise ship emissions reductions. Jim Quinn, Port Saint John President and CEO, says he expects a 10-per-cent jump in passengers next year, buoyed by Blount Small Ship Adventures launching a unique 10-day “Two Nation Vacation” along the coast of Maine and New Brunswick for 2015. Highlights of the 2014 cruise season include a record number of double-ship days, seven inaugural calls and the Port’s 1000th cruise ship call.

The luncheon was topped off with the “Port Award of the Year” going to longstanding transportation partner Black’s Transfer Limited, a local short and long haul trucking company founded by David Black 50 years ago. Dave still drives occasionally but was away on vacation. The award was presented to his daughters Dale Devost and Heather Black.

The winner of the 2014 New Brunswick Export Award, held at the Port’s Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal the previous day, was BASE Engineering of Saint John. BASE Engineering develops radio remote control technology for the petroleum industry. Since 1996, over 60,000 BASE systems have been employed around the globe to increase job safety and productivity.

Additionally, a pilot project held during Port Days saw representatives from ten Latin American companies meet with New Brunswick shippers and receivers to put all the relationship theory into practice.