Port of Vancouver sees mid-year trade growth

VANCOUVER — With growth in some sectors and softening in others, cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver increased by 11 per cent in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s 2023 mid-year statistics show 75.9 million metric tonnes (MMT) of goods moved through Port of Vancouver terminals between January 1 and June 30, 2023, compared to 68.6 MMT for the same period in 2022.

“I want to recognize the outstanding efforts of the port community, partners, and terminal operators, who, despite facing some headwinds in the first half of the year, contributed to near-record cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver,” said Victor Pang, CFO and interim president and CEO at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “Coming off a challenging year, we’ve seen drops in some sectors — reflecting a softening economy — and encouraging rebounds in other key commodities such as grain, auto and cruise. The 2023 mid-year statistics reinforce the foundational strength of being North America’s most diversified port and a testament to the outstanding efforts of the port community.”

The mid-year cargo volumes are released annually and include data from the first six months of the year through the end of June. The figures do not reflect cargo impacts resulting from the July 2023 labour disruption.

This is the second largest mid-year volume of cargo ever handled by Port of Vancouver terminal operators (the record of 76.4 MMT was set in 2021) and a new record for the bulk sector at 55.5 MMT, following a significant rebound in grain volumes as Prairie farmers moved last season’s bumper crop to international markets through the Pacific gateway.

Grain was up 106 per cent overall compared to the same period last year, increasing sharply because this year’s bumper crop season was preceded by a drought-affected season. This included a 121 per cent increase for bulk grain and 28 per cent increase for containerized grain.

Canola volumes were up 124 per cent, while bulk specialty crops such as lentils increased 89 per cent. Bulk wheat was up 144 per cent, with 17 per cent of the wheat exported through the Port of Vancouver going to Africa as world markets continue to settle following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Japan and Algeria were the top-two export markets for Canadian wheat.

The automotive and cruise sectors also showed significant increases over 2022 during the first half of 2023. Automotive was up almost one-third, following strong terminal throughput in early 2023, as supply chain and production issues eased, bringing the sector into line with traditional volumes after several years of volatility.

Container volumes through the Port of Vancouver fell in the first half of 2023, in line with trends throughout North America, as a slowing economy meant fewer imports. Overall container volumes were down 14 per cent compared to the first half of 2022, as imports (or inbound laden) dropped 18 per cent. The decrease was partially offset at the Port of Vancouver by recovering containerized exports, with outbound laden up 14 per cent as Canadian exporters took advantage of lower container freight rates and increased availability post-pandemic.

“The Port of Vancouver — like many major container ports in North America — experienced a drop in containerized imports throughout the first six months of 2023 due to a cooling economy and well-stocked retailer inventories,” said Pang. “Long-term, the outlook for the Port of Vancouver’s container sector is robust — as Canada’s population, economy and trade continue to grow, and containerized trade through the Vancouver gateway increases under the federal government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

Volumes for other commodities remained steady with fertilizer down one per cent and coal down two per cent.

Foreign breakbulk was 15 per cent lower overall, following a slowing Canadian economy, lower forestry exports and many Canadian exporters shifting their method of handling to containers as pandemic disruptions resolved.