â€œWe are almost literally living on a week to week basis to see what the world economy will throw at us next.â€
As things stabilize, indications are trading overseas will become a more viable proposition. David Fung, national chairman of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, or CME, in Vancouver, says while the majority of exports still go to the United States, “China has become the market on the radar screen in terms of size. This has been helped by the fact Western Canada has more of an infrastructure to allow them to look toward Asia as an emerging major market.”
Prince Rupert especially is opening up opportunities for inland provinces looking to market to the Pacific Rim, he says.
“More goods are being shipped from Manitoba and Saskatchewan because of Prince Rupert. As a result, there are steps being taken to consider inland marine container port facilities in Winnipeg, Moosejaw and Edmonton.”
Given the current economic environment, Jayson Myers, chief executive of the CME in Ottawa contends the Pacific Gateway investments are focused on the future rather than the here and now. “The opportunity being offered by Vancouver [and Prince Rupert] is an infrastructure than can be leveraged in the future to create more export opportunities,” he says.
While exports may be more sluggish at the moment, “What is going to be crucial is the ability to respond to new sources of customer demand and take advantage of new markets outside of the U.S. That’s where the future lies,” he says.
Peter Wallis, executive director of the Calgary-based logistics think-tank the Van Horne Institute, says other ports such as Prince Rupert play a critical role along with the emergence of so-called “inland ports,” such as Port Alberta in Edmonton, and distribution hubs in cities such as Calgary.
Port Alberta’s objective is to become a duty-free inland port that could take containers off trains and ship them via air, while Canadian Pacific Railway has established a strong intermodal facility that has made it an attractive distribution hub.
Reg Milley, president and chief executive of Edmonton Airports, called the Port Alberta initiative a “vital regional initiative to become a major cargo processing centre” capable of hosting multiple modes of transport – a boon to small companies trying to gain access to new markets.