Vancouver records second-highest cargo volume despite trade ‘challenges’

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority reported Thursday that 144 million metric tonnes of cargo moved through the Port of Vancouver in 2019, down 2% from the record-setting 147 million metric tonnes in 2018.

Record growth in potash, grain and containers offset declines in foreign petroleum and Canadian forest products, pushing the port to its second-highest year for cargo volumes.

“We saw strong trade growth through the port during the first half of 2019 that reached record levels and a softening in the back half due to various issues affecting global markets,” said Robin Silvester, president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in British Columbia, Canada.

“Despite these challenges, and during one of the most uncertain years for global trade, we still saw the second-highest volume of cargo through the Port of Vancouver to date. This speaks strongly to the diverse number of trading partners and range of cargo handled by terminals at the Port of Vancouver, which ensures the entire port remains resilient, regardless of variations in any one sector or commodity,” Silvester said in a statement issued Thursday.

The port said strong global demand for Canadian grain resulted in a record 28.3 million metric tonnes in containerized and bulk cargo, a 3.5% increase over 2018. Increases in wheat, up 16%, and specialty crops, up 14%, offset a 19% decrease in canola exports, blamed on a 62% plummet in canola exports to China.

Canada’s largest container port reported an overall decline in canola oil in 2019 of 10.8%, which contributed to the total bulk liquid tonnage slide of 25.5%. 

Tariffs and trade challenges did impact some other exports to China, the port authority said. The port reported a 37.3% drop in Canadian grain exports to China in 2019.

The port authority also reported a 42% year-over-year plunge in foreign petroleum products.

“Year-over-year fluctuations in volumes through the port for this sector are not uncommon and were largely affected by U.S. refineries buying crude from U.S. sources, use of transportation alternatives and product pricing,” the statement said.

The port said domestic forest products declined 6% from 2018 levels because of a reduction in local milling activities. It added that the number of automobiles imported through the port was down 1%, mostly as a result of lower Canadian sales.

Breakbulk cargo decreased 5.7% from 2018, to 17.2 million metric tonnes. That included wood pulp dropping 6.2% and logs rolling down 5.8%.

Overall bulk dry cargo increased 0.9% to 91.1 million metric tonnes. 

The port did process a record 3.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2019, but that was just 0.1% over 2018.

“While the sector is forecast to continue to grow, 2019 results reflected a number of factors, including trade conflicts and shipping lines adjusting services based on market conditions,” the port said.

The port authority said that with projected long-term growth in container trade, it is leading two container terminal projects and has partnered with the Canadian government and industry to invest in road and rail and other infrastructure projects to support a more fluid supply chain.

“The Centerm container terminal expansion project will increase the existing terminal footprint by 15% and reconfigure terminal operations, which will increase capacity by about 65%. The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project is a new terminal that, when complete, would add nearly 50% more container capacity to the Port of Vancouver,” it said.

Just this week DP World announced it had finalized the acquisition of Fraser Surrey Docks at Port Metro Vancouver from Macquarie Infrastructure Partners. DP World also operates the Centerm container terminal in downtown Vancouver, the Fairview container terminal in Prince Rupert, the Port of Nanaimo in British Columbia and the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick.