B.C.’s Port of Vancouver Posts Record Cargo Volumes

Image: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Buoyed by robust export business, the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia saw record cargo volumes move through its gateway in calendar year 2023, according to data released March 22 by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Canada’s busiest seaport, which is the third-busiest in North America, processed a record 150.4 million metric tons of cargo last year, a 6% year-over-year growth, despite softer import volumes, port data show.

“The record cargo and export volumes moved last year demonstrate that one of the port’s key strengths and competitive advantages continues to be its diversification—both in terms of the commodities it can handle and the countries it connects to,” Port Authority President and CEO Peter Xotta said.

Various global and domestic challenges affected Vancouver trade in 2023, including a cooling global economy, trade-disrupting geopolitical issues such as those affecting the Panama Canal and Red Sea and a labor strike that impacted container, bulk, breakbulk and auto terminals at the port, Xotta said.

“The recovery from July’s 13-day strike by B.C. longshore workers — which directly impacted operations throughout the port aside from a few areas including cruise and bulk grain — was both steady and challenging, with fluidity largely restored in the fall,” he said.

The port saw a 7% dip in its breakbulk numbers and a 25% decrease in foreign breakbulk volumes, a result of a softening economy, a decrease in imported metals, as well as forestry exports moving to containers.

Container volumes fell 12% year over year, a reflection of what’s been trending on North America’s West Coast, with a slowing global economy and overfilled retailer inventories affecting imports. As a result, laden imports fell 13%, the port authority said.

“While there was a softening of container volumes moving through the Port of Vancouver in 2023, Canada’s container sector remains on a long-term growth trajectory and we saw encouraging signs of recovery in Q4 as year-over-year volumes started to grow,” Xotta said.

Vancouver saw a 12% increase in export volumes and enabled trade with 142 different nations, including “a near-record prairie grain harvest to world markets,” he said.

Bulk exports rose 13% from 2022 to 2023 with a record 91.5 million metric tons, which included a rise in grain, sulfur, coal and petroleum product cargo, according to the port authority.

The port’s nine bulk grain terminals contributed to last year’s 14.7 million metric tons of exported wheat to 38 countries, a 52% year-over-year jump.

Meanwhile, exported canola products soared 36% to 7 million metric tons and specialty crops jumped 30% to 4 million metric tons in 2023. Canadian grain export volumes spiked last year because a bumper crop season occurred after the previous season was affected by drought.

Auto volumes also rose by 36% in 2023, signaling a return to pre-pandemic numbers, the port authority said.

By Karen Robes Meeks