China Drives Port Growth

China was the port’s largest source of inbound cargo 2011-2013.

Port Metro Vancouver saw record shipping volumes last year, driven in large part by a 13-per-cent increase in cargo travelling to and from China

Port Metro Vancouver today released its 2013 year-end statistics, revealing an overall increase in cargo traffic of nine per cent, to  a record 135 million tonnes.
Bulk cargo accounted for the biggest share of combined inbound and outbound traffic, at 93 million tonnes, and the biggest share of that was outbound coal, at 38 million tonnes, up 17 per cent from 2012. According to Port Metro Vancouver president and CEO Robin Silvester, the increase is due to both investment in coal-handling capacity at the waterfront and mining capacity in the Interior.
China remains Port Metro Vancouver’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 24 per cent of all incoming and outgoing cargo, at a total of 32 million tonnes in 2013. Exports far outweigh imports, with 26 million tonnes of cargo leaving Metro ports for China last year, and six million tonnes arriving from China.
Silvester dismisses any potential impact of a slowdown in China’s economic growth, predicting that the country will remain the port’s major trading partner for years to come. He points to China’s demand for coal as an example: “We’re exporting 12 million tonnes of thermal coal; China’s using about three billion tonnes of coal a year. So they could radically change their production mix and we could potentially never notice because we’re less than a rounding error in their coal inputs.” Silvester also points to growing Chinese demand for grain and potash, two of Port Metro Vancouver’s major bulk exports.
Container traffic also saw an increase in 2013, with 25 million tonnes of container cargo passing through Metro ports, up eight per cent from 2012. That traffic was also tilted toward export, with 15 million tonnes of container cargo leaving Metro ports, compared to 10 million tonnes coming in.
Silvester points out that Container traffic could jump as much as 50 per cent by 2020 if the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion is completed as proposed. That container expansion is currently in pre-design consultation.
Cruise ship traffic increased 22 per cent in 2013, with a total of just over 800,000 passengers embarking and disembarking in Vancouver. Silvester attributes that to two factors: the roll-back of a 50-per-cent head tax Alaska placed on cruise passengers in 2008-09, and Vancouver’s inherent advantages over Seattle as a cruise departure point. “We’ve seen the overall market recover and we’re doing more than hold our own in getting our share of that business,” he notes.

Infographic by Jacob Parry