Grain handle offsets slower year at Van. port

“Significant” growth in grain and specialty crop traffic helped offset an overall tonnage decline of 11 per cent in cargoes handled at Port Metro Vancouver in 2009.

Port operators on Monday reported overall volume of 101.9 million tonnes handled in 2009, down 11 per cent from 2008 levels.

“At the end of a challenging and turbulent year, we’re pleased to see gains in some principal Canadian exports, such as grain, specialty crops and crude petroleum,” port CEO Robin Silvester said in a release.

“Total foreign export volumes remained stable over the year, which reflects solid demand for high quality Canadian commodities and underpins the port’s value as Canada’s most important Gateway to international trade.”

Grain, specialty crops and feed volumes rose 33 per cent in total and set a throughput record for grains in 2009 at 18.1 million tonnes, port officials reported.

The crop volumes stemmed from high carryover from a “very good” 2008 harvest, a larger than expected 2009 harvest, and strong demand in Asia, South America and the Middle East.

Canola traffic rose 38 per cent on demand from Asia, and volumes to China peaked in advance of its Nov. 15 ban on Canadian canola, port officials noted. Wheat volumes, meanwhile, jumped 38 per cent on strong demand from markets in Latin America, South America and the Middle East.

Port Metro Vancouver also reported a 14 per cent decrease in overall container volume in 2009, to about 2.2 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units). The decrease is blamed in part to a drop of almost 19 per cent in laden container imports, in turn blamed on the economic downturn and “erosion of consumer confidence.”

However, “stable” demand for containerized exports of specialty crops and forestry products helped the port’s laden outbound units advance by one per cent.

Among other commodities shipped through Vancouver, port officials noted potash, which reached “record” volume levels in 2008, dropped by 65 per cent in 2009.

“Low global demand, exacerbated by high prices, led to production curtailments and exceptionally low potash export volumes” in 2009, the port authority noted.

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