Editorial: E-commerce creating new cargo concerns

For the most part, the Port of Vancouver’s (PoV) mid-year shipping news is good.

It reported an overall 4% increase in cargo handled for the first six months of this year versus 2016. Record shipments of grain and containerized cargo were at the forefront of the port’s upbeat numbers.

PoV’s mid-year report also supports analysts’ predictions that the global shipping sector, especially the container side of that equation, is rebounding from a difficult 2016.

In the short term that is good news for shippers and the rest of the world’s trade supply chain.

But the hard reality for major North American ports and trade gateways like Vancouver is that major change is on the horizon, not just for global freight carriers, but also for the infrastructure that handles the cargo they carry. Those changes could have significant consequences for B.C.’s port operations, which generate billions in wages and economic output.

In its 2017 Port, Airport and Global Infrastructure seaport outlook for North America, real estate and investment management firm Jones Lang Lasalle lists five trends to watch in the freight and logistics services arena.

Among the five are bigger ships and bigger shipping line alliances. Both will place enormous pressure on port cargo efficiency and infrastructure because they will concentrate the number of container ship dockings in larger vessels at fewer ports.

Meanwhile, e-commerce and other disruptive technology in the global economy are changing the way goods are bought and delivered. The pressure here is increasingly on efficiency of loading and unloading cargo containers. That requires more industrial land adjacent to port operations to house larger distribution centres and other facilities, and that, for PoV, is a challenge now that will get far more serious soon.

Considering the importance of the port to local, provincial and national economies, it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed collectively by the port and its many government partners now.