MONTREAL — The Port of Montreal started 2018 with hopes of another record year for cargo traffic as the Canadian free trade agreement with Europe begins to bear fruit.
Canada's second-largest port anticipates cargo traffic increasing about four per cent after ending 2017 up almost seven per cent at a record 38 million tonnes.
A strong economy, growing business with Asia and reversal of Enbridge's 9B pipeline contributed to last year's strong results, port CEO Sylvie Vachon said Wednesday.
"The fact that the economy will be stronger will be very positive for that kind of cargo," she said in an interview.
Last year marked the first full year of operations for a new container terminal that will eventually handle 600,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year. The port is pushing for approval of another terminal that would accommodate 1.15 million TEU containers per year starting in 2021 or 2022.
Vachon said U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to end the North American Free Trade Agreement is prompting transporters to look at developing other markets, notably Europe because of the new trade deal.
"It will be gradual but positive for us," she said of the European trade agreement.
The Port of Montreal is also coming off a record year for cruises with the anticipation of growing that business by another 14 per cent to 130,000 passengers in 2018. More than 50 ship arrivals brought more than 114,000 passengers to Montreal last year, up 33 per cent over 2016 and up 140 per cent compared with 2011.
The growth resulted from more cruises stopping to mark Canada's 150th birthday and the 375th birthday celebrations of Montreal's founding and the cruise industry's interest in adding new destinations.
The preliminary traffic results were released at an event awarding a gold-headed cane to Capt. Rakesh Kumar of the container ship Ottawa Express. The cane has been given annually for 179 years to the first ocean-going vessel to reach the Port of Montreal without a stopover.
Kumar said he's docked in Montreal about 60 times, but never experienced the extreme cold weather that has gripped much of the continent in recent days.
However, the frigid conditions haven't hurt the port operations.
"For sure for the people who work outside it's difficult, but with the Coast Guard who do a very good job to break the ice, for the moment everything is OK for the Port of Montreal," Vachon said.
The same can't be said for the St. Lawrence Seaway where ice on the U.S. side has caused five ocean vessels to remain in the Cornwall-to-Kingston area and will force the waterway to close a few days later than normal for the winter season.
"Once we see those ships complete that portion of their transit they should be clear to finish the Canadian section and exit the St. Lawrence Seaway," said Seaway spokesman Andrew Bogora.
Although the final tally for St. Lawrence Seaway traffic is expected to be released next week, Bogora expects the momentum of the year was maintained in December. As of November, cargo traffic in the first 11 months of the year was up around 8.5 per cent.
The growth was largely attributable to a 35 per cent increase in iron ore tonnes destined for Asia. General cargo was up 28 per cent and dry bulk 12 per cent. Grain was down 10.5 per cent.