With speed to market now more important than ever for Canadian companies exporting to Asia, the Port of Prince Rupert on British Columbia’s north coast believes it has a distinct competitive advantage, particularly for SMEs and consumer good manufacturers who engage in Asia-Pacific trade.

Prince Rupert is North America’s closest port to Asia by up to three days sailing – it’s 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver and over 68 hours closer than Los Angeles.

But speed without reliability does not help Canadian exporters, says Ken Veldman, director of public affairs for the Prince Rupert Port Authority, and that’s why the Port pays particular attention to service reliability to enhance its proximity advantage.

“Reliability combined with speed and a growing reach is a very attractive package for SME's looking for different options to reach Asian markets,” he says.

Reliability combined with speed and a growing reach is a very attractive package for SME's looking for different options to reach Asian markets.

Ken Veldman  —  Director of Public Affairs, Prince Rupert Port Authority

Veldman says mitigating risk by diversifying the supply chain is important to SMEs who often can’t afford to have their products caught up in backlogs at larger west coast ports. CN’s North America-wide rail services provide direct access to Prince Rupert marine services adding to the Port’s convenience as a gateway to Asia.

Growth of Canada and Asia-Pacific trade

While its relatively remote location tends to keep Prince Rupert out of the public eye, the Port is Canada’s third busiest after Vancouver and Montreal, accounting for approximately $35-billion worth of trade annually, and growing.

Overall tonnage through the port in 2017 was 24.1 million tonnes, up 28 per cent compared to 2016, and exceeded the previous record high of 23 million tonnes set in 2013.

In announcing the 2017 results, Bud Smith, chair of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, said the port remains well-positioned to accommodate growth of Canadian trade in the Asia-Pacific region, and will continue to advance expansion that will see Prince Rupert become Canada’s second largest port by volume in the next decade.

3 main drivers of Prince Rupert trade growth in 2017

  • The completion of Fairview container terminal, which increased annual throughput capacity by 60 per cent and enabling the terminal to move 926,540 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units);
  • A rebound to 7.6 million tonnes – a 90 per cent increase over 2016 – in the shipment of steel-making coal from northeastern B.C. through Ridley Terminals;
  • An increase of 22 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes in the export of wood pellets used as a biofuel through Westview Terminal. Nearly half of Canada’s entire wood pellet production is exported through Prince Rupert.

There was a decrease of 6 per cent in exports through the bulk grain terminal lower volumes of wheat, but the number of cruise passengers arriving in Prince Rupert more than doubled to over 16,000 visitors on 25 cruise ship visits.

Opportunities for doing business at the port

Future growth will also be boosted by a new propane export terminal AltaGas is building at the port at a cost of $500-million. It is scheduled for completion in early 2020.

“A lot of our focus is on the terminals and ensuring that the private sector continues to see opportunities for doing business at the port,” says Veldman. “We are committed to doing everything we can to pave the way to make sure that those terminals have the ability to continue increasing capacity where there is Canadian demand.”

At the same time, the port will continue developing its service options as a new logistics facility and the transloading of speciality agricultural products such as pulse crops.

“Increasing these kinds of capabilities allows us to offer many more options for shippers in different industries based on their supply needs,” adds Veldman.

What is the Beyond the Border Project?

Prince Rupert also participates with U.S. and Canadian customs agencies in the Beyond the Border project, which allows U.S.-bound imports to be screened and examined by the Canada Border Services Agency on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Veldman says future growth opportunities for the port include increasing demand for exports in containers, particularly grain and other agricultural products, and refrigerated cargo such as Canadian chilled meats and seafood, for which there is growing consumer demand in Asia.

“We are well positioned to handle growth and increase our reach into Asia,” he adds.

Huge economic benefits for Northern B.C. thanks to Port of Prince Rupert

The port recently released a study showing significant growth in economic benefits for northern B.C. because of in trade volumes through the port over the last 20 years. This includes over $1-billion in economic activity is generated annually in the region, and more than 3,100 full-time jobs directly related to moving international trade, with an average wage of over $83,000.