Port of Vancouver. (The Canadian Press)

Vancouver port CEO warns of coronavirus woes as China trade continues to ebb

Port cargo amounted to 144 million tonnes last year, down two per cent from a 2018 record

The head of Canada’s largest port says the novel coronavirus is eating into trade following a year that saw cargo volumes dip.

The number of cancelled sailings is on the rise as broad swathes of the Chinese economy remain effectively shut down due to the outbreak, said Vancouver Fraser Port Authority CEO Robin Silvester.

“We’re certainly seeing some impact,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s definitely a longer-than-normal slowdown.”

If the virus continues to spread, market quarantines could severely dent trade with Japan and South Korea, which together with China account for well over half of freight volume at Canada’s Pacific gateway, Silvester said.

The port saw trade with its largest partner fall 14 per cent in 2019 as China cut wheat and canola shipments from Canada amid diplomatic tensions.

Canadian grain exports to the mainland dropped 37 per cent year over year, with canola exports leading the plunge at 62 per cent.

Mild diplomatic “thawing” between the U.S. and China in recent months could work out well for Canadian bulk exports, Silvester said.

The CEO also commended police for enforcing injunctions and responding “thoughtfully and carefully” to rolling blockades barring access to the port over the past three weeks. Demonstrations in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline slated to bisect their traditional territory in northern British Columbia have disrupted rail service across the country.

“There’s no doubt that when we had blockades locally at the port that that introduced friction into the system and we saw spikes in the cargo on the dock waiting to get onto rail,” Silvester said.

Port cargo amounted to 144 million tonnes last year, down two per cent from a 2018 record but still the second-highest in port history — “in one of the most turbulent years of trade that any of us have lived through,” he said.

Fewer oil imports and crude exports by sea dragged down overall petroleum volume by 35 per cent as U.S. refineries turned to domestic sources for crude supply and pipelines for transportation.

High log prices and dwindling timber supply, which have triggered more than two-dozen B.C. mill closures, depressed forest product volumes by six per cent.

However, grain, potash and container shipments reached record highs, despite Chinese trade barriers to Canadian wheat and canola. The three segments rose 3.5 per cent, two per cent and 0.1 per cent, respectively.

“We saw strong trade growth through the port during the first half of 2019 that reached record levels, and a softening in the back half due to various issues affecting global markets,” Silvester said.

The number of automobiles arriving via the port was down by one per cent due largely to lower Canadian sales.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusVancouver

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Reflecting on former Kootenay MLA Ed Conroy’s legacy

Former BC cabinet minister and Kootenay MLA Ed Conroy passed away June 26

Conserving all-Canadian wildlife just one part of the puzzle

“Canada plays a critical role in protecting many of these plants and animals.”

Salmo RCMP arrest three, seize $15,000

The three adult men have been charged with “Conspiracy to Commit an Offence.”

COVID-19: Should non-medical masks be mandatory in Canada?

New poll shows Canadians are divided on the rules around mandatory masks

Rosslanders celebrate Canada Day in style

Locals organized a museum scavenger hunt, a Mt. Roberts flag-raising ceremony and evening fireworks

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

Collision results in train derailment just east of Golden

The derailment occurred Sunday night, according to a statement from CP

Lower Mainland woman says llama farming neighbour shot her 11-month-old pup

Young dog was on owner’s Maple Ridge property when it was killed on June 21

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

Greater Victoria nanny pleads guilty to child porn, sexual interference charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to slew of sex crimes

Most Read