On the St. Lawrence River, look no further than the north shore Port of Sept-Îles to witness an exceptional growth story fueled by global demand for the key raw material used in steel making. North America’s leading iron ore maritime gateway is riding the wave of a global commodity boom that is coinciding with markedly-increasing mining production in the Labrador Trough region of Canada’s Province of Quebec.
”After exceeding 33 million metric tons in 2020, we are heading for an all-time record of 37 million tons in 2021,” predicts Pierre C. Gagnon, President and CEO. The previous summit was 34.9 million tonnes in 1974. Such a forecast would rank Sept-Îles immediately behind Vancouver and Montreal.
The region’s high-quality iron ore (above the 62% benchmark) is in great demand, with 50% being shipped to Asia and 30% going to Europe to ports like Rotterdam and Port Talbot in Wales (UK), Gagnon indicated during an interview.
While commodity prices can fluctuate regularly, spot rates in early July showed iron ore at US$219 a tonne – more than double a year earlier. By late August, it had moderated to a US$167 a tonne level. Back in 2015, the spot price languished at $40 a tonne.
Not hiding his enthusiasm, Gagnon stated : “We have recaptured our rank as the third-largest Canadian port, and more good things are on the horizon!”
He stressed that “COVID-19 has had virtually no impact on shipment levels.” He attributed this to what he called “a big enterprise culture” of local industries adapting to the health crisis challenges. There was no massive outbreak of the virus in company personnel and no halt in production. In addition to the mining companies, Aluminerie Alouette has benefited from an increase in output.
Sparking the rise in iron ore exports have been Rio Tinto IOC, Tacora, and Champion Iron at Bloom Lake. By May 2022, Champion plans to double production from 7.5 million tons to 15 million tons.
In a related development, Labrador Mines has announced its intention to re-open its Houston mine near Schefferville which had closed in 2013 when commodity prices were weak. The mine’s existing reserves are estimated at 40 million tons.
The bright outlook has, in fact, sparked several major infrastructure projects. Just recently completed was a $20 million renovation and expansion of intermodal capacity at the Pointe-aux-Basques Terminal, a port of entry for northbound freight and main facility for goods to and from isolated villages in the Lower North Shore. And in progress, following $120 million funding support for the Société ferroviaire et portuaire de Pointe Noire (SEPPN) announced last December by the Quebec government, is the expansion of the regional railway’s terminal installations.