Slowing economy squeezes local port container traffic
The Vancouver Sun this morning reports that container traffic is down sharply this year – 25% less than the same month last year. Apparently this is not so bad as other (US) Pacific coast ports.
“Relatively speaking, our losses aren’t as steep as theirs,” he said. “I understand their decline is about 30 per cent. Our container export market is always more durable than our west coast competitors. One could say that the Canadian economy is doing better [than the U.S. economy].”
This is of course not surprising – the whole world has been impacted by the decline of the US economy. This was not something that the people who planned the port expansion had factored in to their forecasts. Not that there would not be good years and bad years – traffic always fluctuates a bit. Most people now understand that the US has entered a much different phase – this is not just a cyclical decline to be followed by a rebound. The whole basis of the US economy – using financial leger de main to borrow money to buy imported goods – has now been revealed and the US will take a long time to build its way out of this mess. And will probably try to do that by import replacement where possible.
But it also reveals one of the great myths of the port expansionists. That Vancouver was going to take increasing amounts of US trade. It turns out that we did not handle much of it after all – which is why the port’s current performance seems a bit better than theirs. The idea that Vancouver can expand import container movements in a market like this is obvious nonsense. Yet so far as I am aware we have not yet heard anyone cancel the completely unnecessary new container berths at Deltaport. It would not be too late to take that step as these berths will not now be needed, and a great deal of environmental damage could be avoided. We might even ensure the sandpipers still have somewhere to stop off during their annual migrations.
Of course that might also require a lot of provincial and federal politicians to admit they were wrong.
The piece also suggests that the market for export commodities is not as bad due to falling freight rates – but casual observation, and gossip, both suggest that there are far fewer coal trains this year too. And there are plenty of places were empty, unneeded freight cars are being stored.