Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Port of Vancouver Container Trade 2009

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Overall container volume for Port Metro Vancouver decreased nearly 14 per cent, for 2.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent unit) on the year. The downturn in the economy and erosion of consumer confidence in 2009 led to an almost 19 per cent decline in laden container imports, while stable demand for containerized exports of forest products and specialty crops helped laden outbound units advance by one per cent. Although the Port’s laden container business finished the year down 10 per cent, the sector recorded a marked improvement compared to the 17 per cent decline reported at mid-year.

This from a press release by the Port yesterday.

Containerized Statistics by TEU (twenty-foot-equivalent unit)
    Total Container TEU                2,152,462     2,492,107        -13.6%
    Total Laden TEU                    1,932,715     2,153,816        -10.3%
    Import Laden TEU                   1,007,304     1,238,350        -18.7%
    Export Laden TEU                     925,411       915,465          1.1%

Access Port Metro Vancouver’s complete 2009 statistics at

The press release and backgrounder tries to put the best spin it can, but the fact remains that it was a very bad year to expand the port’s container facilities. The figures above refer to just two years – and 2008 was not exactly stellar performance either.

All the ports along the North American Pacific coast experienced a lack of traffic. China – the major source of loaded import containers – has actually not been doing badly lately. It is just not trading with the US as much. It is finding that domestic demand, and that from other Asian economies,  is filling the gap. Since the US economy is not doing well at all, and has not seen any recovery in employment, most forecasts continue gloomy. The probability that the pattern of pre-crash financing of consumer spending will return seems unlikely – yet that is what the whole Gateway program is based on. That somehow trade will grow exponentially indefinitely and Vancouver will take an increasing share of it.

The damage that projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the expansion of container storage at Roberts Bank – on farmland – will be extensive. Fortunately, they are not so advanced as to be irreversible – yet. Up to now all that has happened is some sand has been dumped as pre-load. That could be removed and the damage reversed. The problem will be that it requires the ruling elite to admit that they, just like everyone else, failed to predict the sudden reversal of economic fortunes that resulted from the deregulation of US banking and financial markets. Even though a very similar event occurred under the Reagan administration with the collapse of the savings and loan industry, and the regulation regime itself was introduced after the earlier Great Crash of 1929.

The world has changed in the last few years. Actually, the real world, outside of the financial markets, was already much more precarious and the need for a different approach had long been identified. Exponential economic growth is simply not possible on a finite planet – and the carrying capacity of our ecosystem, the thing we depend on for our lives, was exceeded some time ago. Yet most politicians still talk as though growth is essential  – which is only true if we stick to a financial model that has clearly failed. I cannot say that I am optimistic that the light will dawn at any political level here, or in the US for that matter. I do see, however, that more and more citizens are taking matters into their own hands and being the change they seek. I wonder if that will be enough.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2010 at 8:41 am

Posted in Gateway, port expansion

One Response

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  1. Another thing to keep in mind is the Port of Prince Rupert. Didn’t it just open a couple of years ago? And CN upgraded it’s mainline to the Port. When traffic picks up, Rupert is in a good position to grab a good share of it.


    February 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm

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