DP World $350 million Centerm Expansion Project was completed in 2023

Following a decline in container cargo last year, 2024 is showing signs of an uptick at Canada’s largest port while latest available 2023 figures for total traffic to mid-June point to continuing robust shipments of bulk commodities led by grain.

“In 2023, we saw a softening of container volumes moving through the Port of Vancouver, which was in line with trends seen across the West Coast,” the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) observed in an e-mailed statement to the American Journal of Transportation.

“Despite short-term fluctuations, Canada’s container trade remains on a long-term growth trajectory, and we saw encouraging signs of recovery in Q4 as year-over-year volumes started to grow,” the VFPA said. “This long-term growth trajectory is due to several factors including: ongoing economic and population growth in Canada and around the world and increasing demand for Canadian commodities.”

Last year, the Port of Vancouver handled 3.1 million TEUs versus 3.55 million TEUs in 2022. In January of this year, it handled 262,800 TEUs compared with December’s output of 274,323 units – but imports at 148,035 TEUs were superior to the previous month.

Commenting on the port’s container performance last year, Julia Kuzeljevich, director of policy and regulatory affairs of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) recalled that some cargo diversions resulted from a two-week strike of dockers in British Columbia ports in July and from the uncertainty prior to the work stoppage.

“There was also a general trend towards container traffic declining as inflation rose and consumers were not spending as heavily on e-commerce,” Kuzeljevich said, adding: “As well some retailers had built a considerable level of inventory and did not need to import as much.”

Advancing RBT2 Container Terminal Project

Regarding developments on the planned Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project (RBT2) designed to accommodate anticipated growth of trade with Asia, the VFPA noted that it received approval from the federal government and an environmental assessment certificate from the provincial government in 2023, following a rigorous environmental assessment process. “We are advancing the project in line with our mandate to support Canada’s trade in a way that protects and minimizes effects on the environment, is reflective of First Nations priorities, and considers the needs of local communities.

“There are several key steps we need to complete before construction can begin. This includes obtaining permits (such as a Fisheries Act Authorization), ongoing consultation and collaboration with First Nations, assessing market conditions, undertaking procurement, and preparing for a final investment decision. This year, we are focusing on submitting a Fisheries Act Authorization to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and continuing First Nation consultation.”

If all goes according to plan for the long-delayed project, terminal operations are expected to start in the early 2030s. The new container terminal would add an additional 2.4 million TEUs of capacity, boosting the Port of Vancouver’s box capacity by nearly 50% and increasing Canada’s west coast container capacity by approximately 30%.

Peter Xotta, president and CEO at Helm

Peter Xotta Takes Over Helm

Spearheading progress on RBT2 is a major task now for Peter Xotta, who last December succeeded Robin Silvester as president and CEO.

Xotta has taken over the helm with considerable experience and inside knowledge of the Port of Vancouver. He most recently served as vice-president operations and supply chain for the port authority – where he was responsible for land and marine operations, health, safety and security and supply chain optimization activities. Among other things, too, he has been heavily involved in working with local partners to secure funding for infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, available statistics for the first half of 2023 show cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver increasing by 11% compared to the same period in 2022. The mid-year statistics listed a total of 75.9 million metric ton (MMT) of goods moving through Port of Vancouver terminals between January 1 and June 30, 2023, versus 68.6 MMT for the same period in 2022. As such, these figures do not reflect any cargo impacts stemming from the July 2023 labour disruption.

But strikingly enough, it was the second largest mid-year volume of cargo ever handled by Port of Vancouver terminal operators (the record of 76.4 MMT was set in 2021) and represented a new record for the bulk sector at 55.5 MMT. This followed a significant rebound in grain volumes as Prairie farmers moved last season’s bumper crop to international markets through the Pacific gateway.

Grain was up 106% overall compared to the same period last year, increasing sharply because this year’s bumper crop season was preceded by a drought-affected season. This included a 121% increase for bulk grain and 28% increase for containerized grain.

Canola volumes were up 124%, while bulk specialty crops such as lentils increased 89%. Bulk wheat was up 144%, with 17% of the wheat exported through the Port of Vancouver going to Africa as world markets continue to evolve in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Japan and Algeria were the top-two export markets for Canadian wheat.

The automotive and cruise sectors also showed significant increases over 2022 during the first half of 2023. Automotive was up almost one-third, following strong terminal throughput in early 2023, as supply chain and production issues eased, bringing the sector into line with traditional volumes after several years of volatility. The cruise sector was on course for a record season, with passenger numbers up 82% year-to-date June compared to the same period last year

Container volumes through the Port of Vancouver fell in the first half of 2023, in line with trends being seen throughout North America, as a slowing economy meant fewer imports. Overall container volumes were down 14% compared to the first half of 2022, as imports (or inbound laden) dropped 18%. The decrease was partially offset at the Port of Vancouver by recovering containerized exports, with outbound laden up 14% as Canadian exporters took advantage of lower container freight rates and increased availability post-pandemic.