Laurentia project aims to win back business

by Christopher Reynolds THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL – The head of a project to build a container terminal in Quebec City says the port expansion will help Canada claw back business from U.S. harbours.

Don Krusel, executive director of the Quebec Port Authority’s $775-million undertaking, says the country’s share of container shipping traffic in North America has lost ground to beefed-up U.S. ports, falling 18 per cent since 2008.

The shrinking market share is all the more striking as U.S. East Coast volumes surge due to shifting global supply chains.

The growth of production in Southeast Asia has redirected some container shipping way from the West Coast and toward Atlantic ports.

“Imports from places like Vietnam and Malaysia and Cambodia and even India are increasing quite rapidly,” Krusel said.

“As you move away from China and toward places in Southeast Asia, it then becomes more economical to transport a container ship through the Suez Canal, then the Mediterranean, and then to the East Coast. So the West Coast of North America is losing market share to East Coast.”

Meanwhile, the advent of mega-ships has boosted the value of deep-water ports that can handle their larger hulls, with the Port of New York and New Jersey dredging the harbour at a cost of US$2.1 billion in 2016 to reach a depth on par with the Port of Quebec.

“It’s the same reason why Air Canada would rather fly a 737 than a Dash 8. Its economies of scale are improved. The more containers you can fit one vessel, the lower your greenhouse gas emissions are per container, but also your costs,” Krusel said.

In 2017, only one per cent of containers that came through New York-New Jersey docks arrived on a vessel of 13,000 TEUs or larger, according to the local port authority. In 2018, nearly 16 per cent of containers came via 13,000-TEU boats. Last year the proportion reached 23 per cent.

The Port of Montreal can handle ships carrying up to 5,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) – a metric based on container size – while the Quebec City terminal will welcome ships of up to 13,000 TEUs.

“Quebec can handle all of the large ships which are the trend, whereas Montreal cannot,” Krusel said.

The Quebec Port Authority – which currently does not have a container terminal – is slated to begin construction next year and launch the facility in early 2024.

The port authority announced a deal last year with Hong Kong port giant Hutchison Ports and Montreal-based Canadian National Railway Co. to build and run the terminal, which would be Eastern Canada’s third alongside Montreal and Halifax.

CN Rail CEO JJ Ruest has highlighted the “underutilized network” between Toronto and Halifax as manufacturing levels off in the eastern half of the country, leaving transport of consumer goods as a more promising opportunity for the railway.