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Port of Vancouver volumes up 11% in first half of 2023

Grain volumes more than doubled, cruise ship traffic back 'with a vengeance'
Exports up, imports down, but overall volumes up by 11 per cent at Port of Vancouver in first half of 2023. |Chung Chow

The Port of Vancouver saw overall growth of 11 per cent in cargo volumes moving through the port in the first half of 2023, with some record or near record growth in some sectors, like cruise ships and grain exports, according to port’s mid-year cargo statistics.

Total laden outbound volumes (exports) were up 14 per cent, while inbound volumes (imports) were down 18 per cent.

A total of 75.9 million metric tonnes (MMT) of goods moved through Port of Vancouver in the first six months of 2023, compared to 68.6 MMT for the same period in 2022.

The period in question was just before a strike by port workers in July.

“This is the second largest mid-year volume of cargo ever handled by Port of Vancouver terminal operators (the record of 76.4 MMT was set in 2021) and a new record for the bulk sector at 55.5 MMT, following a significant rebound in grain volumes as prairie farmers moved last season’s bumper crop to international markets through the Pacific gateway,” the port notes in a press release.

“Eleven per cent growth, for a mature port – double digit growth – is pretty phenomenal and takes a lot of hard work,” Victor Pang, the Port of Vancouver’s interim CEO, told BIV News.

While imports overall were down, one notable exception was vehicle imports, which were up 28 per cent in the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2022, according to Pang.

The automotive sector has been backlogged, partly due to a computer chip shortage, since the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a very strong rebound in the first six months,” Pang said. "We’re seeing pre-pandemic type volume.”

Thanks to a bumper harvest on the prairie last fall, grain exports through Vancouver increased by 106 per cent in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.

“Then you’re seeing cruise coming back with a vengeance,” Pang added.

The cruise sector is “on course for a record season,” the port says, with passenger numbers up 82 per cent year-to-date in June compared to the same period last year.

“Almost 500,000 passengers passed through the Canada Place cruise terminal at the Port of Vancouver from April 1 to June 30, 2023, and there were 134 cruise ship visits.”

While export volumes increased, imports fell by 18 per cent in the first half of 2023.

“The Port of Vancouver—like many major container ports in North America—experienced a drop in containerized imports throughout the first six months of 2023 due to a cooling economy and well-stocked retailer inventories,” Pang said.

As for key B.C. exports, metallurgical coal was up 1.3 per cent over the first six months of 2022, lumber exports were up 5.7 per cent and ores and concentrates were down 2.3 per cent.

These numbers are not necessarily reflective of exports overall of those commodities, as some -- notably metallurgical coal -- also ships through the Port of Prince Rupert.

A few highlights from the mid-year cargo statistics:

  • crude oil exports were up 27.5 per cent
  • jet fuel exports increased 77.5 per cent
  • paper and paperboard exports were down 21.3 per cent
  • wheat exports increased144 per cent
  • canola exports increased 124 per cent
  • barley increased 249 per cent
  • phosphate-based fertilizers increased 122 per cent

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