Port of Vancouver sees record cargo volumes in 2023

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

Cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver increased by six per cent in 2023, as terminal operators and supply chain partners moved a record 150.4 million metric tonnes (MMT) of trade.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s 2023 cargo statistics, released in late March, show it was a mixed year at the Port of Vancouver, with growth in some sectors and softening in others. Notably, bulk and containerized exports, auto imports, and cruise all grew—including near-record grain exports—while container imports softened in line with trends seen across the West Coast.

“We know reliable access to international markets is vital for Canadian exports and Canadian businesses—supporting jobs, investment, and economic activity from coast to coast. I want to acknowledge the resilience of Port of Vancouver terminal operators and supply chain partners, as they moved record volumes of trade in 2023 against a challenging backdrop to support Canadians and their jobs and businesses,” says Peter Xotta, president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Almost as much cargo moved through the Port of Vancouver in 2023 as moved through Canada’s next five largest ports combined, while the port handled North America’s most diversified range of cargo—including bulk, containers, breakbulk, and automobiles, as well as overseeing cruise.

“In 2023, we saw operations at the Port of Vancouver support a 12 per cent increase in export volumes and enable trade with 142 different countries, including delivering a near-record Prairie grain harvest to world markets,” says Xotta. “The record cargo and export volumes moved last year demonstrate that one of the port’s key strengths and competitive advantages continues to be its diversification—both in terms of the commodities it can handle and the countries it connects to.”

Trade last year was affected by a number of global and domestic challenges, including a cooling global economy, geopolitical issues such as disruptions to the Panama Canal and Red Sea trade routes, and a strike that affected container, bulk, breakbulk, and auto terminals at the Port of Vancouver. The recovery from July’s 13-day strike by B.C. longshore workers—which directly impacted operations throughout the port aside from a few areas including cruise and bulk grain—was both steady and challenging, with fluidity largely restored in the fall.

Bulk exports increased 13 per cent in 2023, compared to 2022, to reach a record 91.5 MMT—including increases in grain, sulphur, coal, and petroleum product volumes. Nine bulk grain terminals at the port helped to export 14.7 MMT of wheat to 38 different countries, a 52 per cent year-over-year increase, while canola exports increased 36 per cent to seven MMT and specialty crops grew 30 per cent to four MMT. Canadian grain export volumes increased sharply in 2023 because a bumper crop season was preceded by a drought-affected season.

Automotive was up 36 per cent in 2023 as the sector returned to pre-pandemic volumes, with supply chain and production issues easing and consumer demand for vehicles remaining resilient. Breakbulk volumes were down seven per cent, including a 25 per cent drop in foreign breakbulk volumes due largely to the cooling economy and a fall in metals imports, as well as exports of forestry products shifting to containers.

Cruise had another strong season, with the Canada Place cruise terminal at the Port of Vancouver having 15 of its 20 busiest days ever in 2023, as it welcomed a record 1.24 million passengers and 332 ship visits.

“Vancouver’s cruise sector continues to be a success story with further growth in 2023—bringing more visitors than ever before to our world-class city and supporting local businesses and jobs, particularly in hospitality and tourism,” Xotta says. “We look forward to continuing to partner with cruise lines and industry to build the capacity and sustainability needed to keep this important sector thriving.”

Container volumes were down 12 per cent year-over-year, in line with trends seen across North America’s West Coast, as a cooling global economy and overstocked retailer inventories impacted imports (laden inbound containers were down 13 per cent). Containerized exports (laden outbound) continued to recover from pandemic-era disruptions and were up seven per cent in 2023, as Canadian businesses used the increased availability of empty containers to deliver goods to markets across the globe.

“While there was a softening of container volumes moving through the Port of Vancouver in 2023, Canada’s container sector remains on a long-term growth trajectory and we saw encouraging signs of recovery in Q4 as year-over-year volumes started to grow,” Xotta says. “We continue to partner with industry and government to ensure the port has the capacity needed to support Canada’s long-term trade needs, including expanding terminal capacity and investing in digital tools, collaboration, and data sharing to ensure existing infrastructure is used to its maximum potential.”

Key port capacity and optimization projects that progressed in 2023 at the Port of Vancouver include:

  • Centerm container terminal expansion was completed in partnership with DP World
  • Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project received federal approval and a B.C. environmental certificate
  • Centralized scheduling system launched for commercial ships east of Second Narrows to improve reliability, safety, and efficiency
  • Annacis Island auto terminal optimization work was underway in partnership with Wallenius Wilhelmsen
  • A permit application was approved for a rail capacity expansion on the south shore, led by CPKC
  • Westshore Terminals progressed construction on their potash export project
  • The port authority and Ashcroft Terminal signed a letter of intent to determine the feasibility of a new railcar storage agreement to enhance supply chain resiliency