Port of Vancouver saw cargo volume fall 11% over 2022's first half

VFPA president/CEO Robin Silvester. | Submitted

The Port of Vancouver saw goods shipped through its facilities fall 11% over the first half of 2021, an occurrence that – officials say – was caused by a combination of factors, including a decline in the Canadian grain harvest.

However, officials insist that the overall long-term trajectory of cargo traffic at the port remains healthy and will reach facilities’ capacity by the mid- to late-2020s as originally projected. As such, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) maintains that the Terminal 2 container port expansion at Roberts Banks – currently awaiting federal approval – remains necessary.

“If we consider our short- and long-term challenges at Canada’s largest port, the solutions are in fact the same,” said VFPA president and CEO Robin Silvester. “To provide resiliency in the face of supply-chain disruptions and to be able to support long-term growth from a position of strength, we need to continue building capacity, efficiency and resiliency throughout the port and its supply chains. Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is an essential part of that.”

For the first half of 2022, the Port of Vancouver's overall cargo fell from 76.4 million tonnes (in the first six months of 2022) to 68.3 million. In addition, overall grain volumes fell by a staggering 60%, and canola oil saw a 62% decrease.

The port attributed these drops to a poor harvest in Canada, as well as the elevated commodity prices previously leading to sellers selling off grain in storage before 2022, leading to the poor overall volume.

Automotive (down 20%) and consumer containerized goods (down 7%) also fell in 2022's first half, and port officials said the congestion left over from the 2021 atmospheric river flooding – as well as congestion at warehouses and inland terminals in other Canadian cities – led to those slowdowns.

The global supply chain shortage for things like semiconductors also contributed to the drop, Silvester said.

“Grain has been a major growth story for this port for nearly a decade, and while we’ve been seeing impacts of the 2021 harvest this year, we expect to see volumes returning as of this fall, based on industry projections of a stronger 2022 harvest,” Silvester said in a statement.

There were areas of growth at the Port of Vancouver, however. Sulphur volume (up 20%), coal (23%), jet fuel (up 179%) and potash (up 1%) all benefited from higher global demand, while the return of cruise ships saw 119 vessels make port calls this summer – up 10% from 2019 pre-pandemic numbers.

“Seeing the first cruise ship in two years sail under the Lions’ Gate Bridge this past April was quite emotional for the port community – and I think Vancouverites, too,” Silvester said in a statement.

Overall in 2022’s first half, container traffic decreased 7% to 1.8 million TEUs,  breakbulk cargo (log/wood pulp/metals) dropped 3%, bulk dry cargo was down 11% and bulk liquid tonnage decreased 0.1%.