Canadian Ports Play Down Panama Canal Threat

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Photo by: Jon Benjamin Photography

-Article by: Linton Nightingale 

Canadian ports — including Prince Rupert, pictured — say their competitive advantage over the Panama Canal will be preserved.

Competitive advantage of Canadian gateways in the north remains, ports claim. Senior figures from Canada’s major ports have downplayed the threat of the recently expanded Panama Canal on their respective businesses. They claim the competitive advantage of routing cargo further north, which has served them so well up to now, is not going away any time soon.

Speaking at Cargo Logistics Canada in Vancouver, representatives from the ports of Montreal and Halifax on Canada’s Atlantic coast and Prince Rupert on the western Pacific seaboard were united in the defence of Canada as a key gateway to North America.

They said shippers would continue to benefit from reduced transit times to central US states and those located in the Midwest.

Shaun Stevenson, vice-president of trade development and public affairs at the port of Prince Rupert, said shippers were looking to ensure precise and reliable supply chains from the key markets, in addition to reducing the inventory incurring costs during transit.

“These factors will continue to preserve the integrity of our competitive advantage against the expanded Panama Canal,” he said.

“Overall, there will be cargo that finds its way through the Panama Canal that didn’t before, and will lead to greater competition on the west coast between Los Angeles, Long Beach, Prince Rupert and Seattle and so forth.

“But the advantages we enjoy on the west coast of Canada into the US will be maintained, even with the expanded Panama Canal services,” said Mr Stevenson.

He added: “It is not the threat to west coast ports that people feared and it is not the opportunity for east coast ports that people hoped.”

In the case of Halifax, the port’s business development manager Rob McInnes also dismissed the significance of the expanded Central American waterway.

“It is getting a lot of press, but I don’t think the Panama Canal will have a big impact on Canada, and it certainly won’t have an impact on the port of Halifax,” he said.

Halifax does, however, have one service calling its docks from Asia routed through the Panama Canal, which Mr McInnes said served an important market. In this instance, it served a purpose for shippers that want a “slow boat to China” for various reasons, he added.

But for Halifax, where Asian cargo represents around 60% of all trade handled by the port, it is the enhanced Suez Canal that has had a more profound impact, Mr McInnes explained. He said it was an area the port would look to utilise to its advantage more and more in the future.

Montreal, meanwhile, has seen the benefit of the expanded Panama Canal, but Tony Boemi, the port’s vice-president of growth and development, also underplayed its bearing on its business. He said box numbers moving through the port inland, to Chicago and Detroit, for example, had been largely unmoved.

“We have, though, been handling Latin American cargo that we have never [handled] in the past, because of transhipment hubs moving more cargo further north, as they can take in the mega vessels,” he said.

“So it is a plus, but by no means the game-changer so many anticipated.”

Full article: Lloyd’s List, February 13, 2017

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