By Leo Ryan, AJOTCanadian ports on the east coast are generally enjoying steady growth in cargo activity and targeting investments in infrastructure and technology to increase business. And even though it has been going through a difficult period due largely to carrier restructuring, Halifax has maintained a substantial program of capital expenditures to remain a player in the Atlantic trades while at the same time seeking to become widely recognized by shippers in India and Asia as a gateway of choice to North American markets via the Suez Canal. On the continent, the slowdown in economic growth in Canada has not been as pronounced as in the United States. The strength of the Canadian dollar has stimulated imports, while exports have suffered only marginally. Certainly, current trends have been favorable to the Port of Montreal, which is strategically located on the St. Lawrence River deep inland to tap markets in the US Midwest and Northeast as well as central Canada. Buoyed by a sharp increase in container traffic, the port’s total traffic reached a record high of 26 million tons in 2007. Container volume rose by 9.4% to attain 12.4 million tons, the equivalent of 1.3 million teus. The port predicts container cargo growth of about five percent in 2008. At Canada’s second leading container port, there has been a changing of the guard since late last fall – with Patrice Pelletier succeeding Dominic Taddeo, the longtime President and CEO. In a recent appearance before the parliamentary transport committee, Pelletier indicated that the port administration sees present capacity being over-stretched by 2015 and is therefore planning a major expansion, especially involving container facilities. “Without going into detail, we are talking about an investment of over $500 million just for that work,” he said. According to one forecast, Montreal’s container traffic could hit two million teus by 2020. Observers consider that a further shift eastwards of activity will occur in the relatively near future at the sizeable land bank the port owns at Contrecoeur, 25 miles downstream from Montreal. Over the next five years, meantime, the Montreal Port Authority plans to spend more than $220 million to look after existing infrastructure. This will include strengthening the rail infrastructure. More than half of Montreal’s container traffic is generated by shipments to and from the US Midwest and Northeast. Nine of the 12 leading global container operators have scheduled services with Montreal, which claims to be slightly ahead of the Port of NY/NJ for purely North Atlantic box cargo. Last June, MSC added a third ship on the route it operates between Montreal and Freeport, Bahamas. Traffic growth has been reported by such carriers as Hapag-Lloyd, OOCL and the TA-4 service operated by Maersk in partnership with APL, MOL and NYK Line. On the other hand, Halifax’s container numbers fell last year below the half-million teu mark for the first time in seven years. The Nova Scotia port, now functioning at half capacity in the container sector, has been significantly impacted by carrier service restructurings involving Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd and the loss of China Shipping calls. More recently, there has been the termination of a short-lived short-sea service with New England by Icelandic carrier Eimskip. However, George Malec, Vice-President of Business Development and Operations for the Halifax Port Authority (HPA), says that the port will continue to market itself as a deepwater gateway for Asia business to complement the traditional Atlantic trades. In addition, the port is targeting promising niche markets such as refrigerated cargo. Whereas the HPA itself has earmarked $100 million in a five-year plan for port improvements, the terminal operators are also investing. Latest major investment came from Ceres Terminals, which has added two new super post-Panamax cranes at a cost of about $20 million to its Fairview Cove facility. NEW COMPETITION FOR HALIFAX? Oth