By Leo Ryan, AJOTOn the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence System, which accounts for a significant number of inland ports in North America, tougher times certainly lie ahead as a global recession takes hold and world trade stumbles away from a long period of sustained growth. Within this pretty bleak outlook, however, Canada’s Port of Montreal appears better positioned than its US rivals on the East Coast to weather the downturn. This, at least, is the considered opinion of Patrice Pelletier, President and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority (MPA). Some industry observers would not disagree. Indeed, Montreal could be a prime North American example, in recent years, of the successful inland port. At the recent Gold-Headed Cane ceremony marking the arrival of the first ocean vessel at the port in the New Year, the port announced record throughput for both total and container cargo in 2008 despite the adverse global economic trends in the past few months. Montreal’s container cargo rose 7.2% to a record 1.46 million TEU in 2008, according to preliminary figures, while total traffic was up 2.5% to 26.6 million metric tons. Pelletier hailed this performance as “an exceptional result achieved despite the economic slowdown that affected us during the last two months of 2008.” It represented, Pelletier said, the highest growth in 2008 among North America’s ten leading container ports. And while West Coast ports have been hit hard by the decline in Asia’s emerging economies, the Port of Montreal has benefited from a more diversified market base in northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. About 90% of Montreal’s container traffic is in the North Atlantic trade, and well over half of this business is generated by shipments to and from the U.S. Midwest and Northeast. Pelletier acknowledges that due to the recession, Montreal’s containerized cargo could drop by about 3.7% in 2009. However, he is confident that Montreal’s performance will continue to outperform such competitors as New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Savannah and Baltimore. “To this end, we are counting on the Midwest market, the industrial heartland of North America, which will play an important role in the revival of the U.S. economy, as President-elect Barak Obama has already hinted,” Pelletier declares. “You call us the Port of Montreal,” he states, “but we are as much the port for Chicago, the gateway to an interprovincial, transnational corridor. We hope to transform this Montreal-Chicago connection, which has already made on successful, into a veritable pipeline, with all the infrastructure and systems needed to maximize the fluid transport of merchandise.” PORT OF MONTREAL OPENS CHICAGO OFFICE In recognition of Chicago’s crucial place in the Port of Montreal’s future, the MPA appointed its first full-time representative to the Windy City this past fall. Pelletier says Montreal intends to capitalize on various competitive advantages to further increase its penetration of the strategic Midwest market. Two key facts: Montreal is located on the St. Lawrence River 1,600 kms (1,000 miles) inland from the closest coastal port, and has excellent intermodal connections, notably through the continental networks of CN and CP Rail. Third key fact: nine of the world’s 12 leading container lines call at Montreal. Thus, according to port officials, Montreal offers the fastest maritime access to the US Midwest from Europe. For instance, total transit time from Bremerhaven to Chicago via Montreal is 9.5 days versus 11.5 days via New York and 13.5 days via Hampton Roads. Major shippers in the Midwest use the Port of Montreal extensively. These include John Deere, Caterpillar, 3M and Ford Motor Company. With the likely aid of federal infrastructure funds, the Port of Montreal has an ambitious C$2.5 billion plan to triple its container-handling capacity to 4.5 million TEU by 2020. The Port of Quebec is not as deep inland as Montreal, but the combination of deep water and substantial inv