Editorial: Keep Asia-Pacific gateway competitive

Canada runs a distant competitive second to America in many business arenas, but its Asia-Pacific Gateway is not one of them.

B.C.’s transpacific trade entry points have become more than a match for their U.S. counterparts.

For example, as the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has noted, Vancouver’s share of the containerized cargo traffic that flowed through all Pacific Northwest ports in 2017 was 41%. In 2011, its percentage was 35%. The 3.25 million 20-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) Vancouver’s four container terminals handled in 2017 helped move it into the ranks of the world’s top 50 container ports.

Prince Rupert, meanwhile, continues to be one of North America’s fastest-growing container ports as it and Vancouver combined to handle 4.18 million TEUs in 2017.

Despite analysts’ growing concerns over escalating trade and tariff wars and subsequent downgrades in their outlooks for transpacific and other major trade route traffic, container terminal operators are sinking multimillions into their B.C. operations.

Their optimism is grounded in far more than B.C.’s geography, which places it in an enviable location in the Asia-North America trade triangle.

Canada’s rail connections to the Canadian and American heartland and the relative efficiency of container movement through B.C. ports also support optimism about the competitive business buoyancy of their West Coast operations.

However, retaining an Asia-Pacific Gateway edge in volatile economic times depends on continued strategic investment in marine and other links in the transpacific logistics chain.

Competition along North America’s west, east and Gulf coasts can’t do anything about B.C.’s geographic advantages.

It can, however, do much about the cost, efficiency, technology and connectivity of its share of transpacific trade, which is the largest deep-sea market in the world.

Strategic expansion of cargo capacity and road and rail connections therefore needs to be mapped out, co-ordinated and executed at B.C. ports if Canada’s transportation arteries are to continue feeding the country’s economy with the lifeblood of trade.