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Industry Information —
Canadian Port Industry

Consider the economic importance of the marine industry and the contribution to the environment from the industry:

• International marine industry carries 90 per cent of all trade.
• Number of sea-going merchant ships of no less than 100 Gross Tonnes: approximately 105 thousand.
• Cargo carrying fleet: approximately 55 thousand.
• A medium-sized, high-tech container vessel costs $150 million US.
• The marine industry is highly regulated by the International Maritime Organization.
• Emissions are less per transport mile than other transportation modes and continuing to improve.
• Cost to consumers for transporting crude oil from the Middle East to your pump was half a cent per litre.
• Comparative costs of transporting containerized consumer good from Europe to North America:

Television - unit price: $700; marine transport costs: $10
DVD Players - unit price: $200; marine transport costs: $1.30
Scotch Whishy - unit price: $50: marine transport costs: $0.15

Marine Industry Benefits Study - Executive Summary [PDF]

Étude des Retombées du Transport Maritime - Résumé [PDF]

Marine Industry Benefits Study - Final Report [PDF]


The marine industry has a positive effect on the daily lives of our community and on the well-being of our economy as a whole.

To see the port in your community you must look beyond the harbourview and to the business of ports. Canada's major ports are truely economic engines and gateways
to trade.

Modern seaports have become critical nodes within a complex system of logistical and industrial centres. Many changes have taken place in the globalization of markets, production and consumption forcing ports to meet new challenges. Ports must be competitive in all they do to become 'ports of call' on international and domestic freight routes.

Canada’s Major Ports:

What They Are

Canada’s major ports have a legal designation under the Canada Marine Act as Canada Port Authorities (CPA) and consist of 17 Port Authorities known as the National Ports System. These Port Authorities were designated as being ‘critical to domestic and international trade.’ These 17 ports handle approximately 310 million tonnes annually, valued at more than $400 billion.

Canada Port Authorities were created by an Act of Parliament in 1998 under the Canada Marine Act (CMA), providing an overall governance structure for the management of Port Authorities with important local governance and control.

The key elements of the new, autonomous structure include:
1) requiring these new Authorities to be fully ‘commercial’ and completely ‘self-sufficient’ with no further funding from the Government of Canada; 2) setting strict borrowing limits for Port Authorities with operations funded solely from the CPA’s stream of revenues with no ability to pledge assets to borrow; and 3) requiring Port Authorities to provide a portion of their gross revenues to the Government of Canada’s general revenue fund.

Key Transportation Corridors

The marine industry functions are multi-faceted, and each coast has a unique component of both domestic and international marine transportation sectors supporting key transportation corridors. Canada’s port system provides critical infrastructure linking the movement of goods by water to important landside services including critical connections to road and rail.

The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence inland waterway system from the Atlantic Ocean to the heartland of the United States is an important trade corridor serving 15 major international ports and some 50 regional ports on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region specialize in bulk carriers, self-unloaders and tug/barge units related to domestic dry cargo movements and a fleet of small tankers handle petroleum products.

Within the St. Lawrence region a full range of ship sizes and types serve international trade from container ships to crude oil tankers.

In the Pacific region, tugs and barges serve the domestic workhorses, whole bulk carriers and container ships dominate international trade with Asian countries.

Atlantic Canada supports some domestic trade with international vessels that are of considerable importance to import and export traffic.

Trade and Commerce

Exports of goods and services account for more than 31 percent of economic activity in Canada in 2011. Almost 75 percent of the value of Canada’s trade is with the United States and this trade has grown rapidly since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. 70 percent of exports of goods and services go to the U.S.

It is estimated that foreign trade sustains one out of every four Canadian jobs and one out of five jobs in Canada depends on exports, either directly or indirectly.

Marine transportation accounted for almost a fifth of the volume of Canada’s exports to the United States and over 95 percent of the approximately 180 million tonnes of commodities and processed goods Canada exports to other countries annually. Canada exported approximately 21 billion dollars of goods in 2010 to the U.S. through marine transport, representing seven percent of total exports to U.S. in dollars.

Canada exported about 60.5 billion to all other countries in 2010, representing 60.4 percent of total exports to other countries in dollars.

The marine industry plays an important role in Canada’s domestic trade and is the mode of choice for many important bulk commodity movements, including the grain, iron ore and coal transported between Great Lakes ports; the crude oil shipped from the Terra Nova oil field off Newfoundland’s coast; and forest products shipped from northern to southern B.C. ports.

Domestic marine trade amounts to 58 million tonnes in 2010 and accounts for 20 percent of total marine traffic via the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. The regional shares of marine trade in 2010 are as follows: Atlantic, 26.2 percent, St-Lawrence, 27.9 percent, Great Lakes, 10.1 percent, and Pacific, 35.9 percent.

Canada’s merchant fleet consisting of dry bulk carriers along with tankers, general cargo vessels and ferries handles most domestic traffic. The marine sector is also a significant provider of passenger transportation services.

The cruise industry continues to grow in all regions of Canada with more than 2 million foreign cruise passengers handled by Canada’s major ports annually.

The Business of Ports

After the vessel has docked, stevedores and marine terminal operators arrange for the dockworkers to load and unload the ships. Local ship chandler firms provide supplies to the vessels, and local shipyards make repairs when needed. Other firms provide maintenance and repair services to the trucks, cargo handling equipment, containers, and chassis serving the port.

Support industries include freight forwarders who arrange for further transport of the cargo; customs brokers who assist in clearing the import cargo; and warehouses and distribution centers that are located off-dock where cargo can be stored and also processed. There are also government agencies that inspect cargo and provide safety and health inspection.

The marine terminals serve as the intermodal connector where foreign trade changes transportation modes between land and water transit. Different types of cargo pass through different types of terminals.

Cargo may be stored in warehouses, in grain elevators, in petroleum and chemical tanks, or in open storage areas such as those used for automobiles, steel structures and containers. Some perishable cargos such as frozen meats and poultry and fruits and vegetables, require temperature-controlled warehouses.

The ports system is the only economically feasible method for handling the export of raw materials, grains, most manufactured products and perishable cargoes.

If the maritime transport component of the logistics system fails, not only are port industry jobs lost, but also the entire export-related economic sector suffers.

The National Ports System, with its connections to the highway and rail system, is vital to importers, including importers of certain consumer goods as well as importers of raw materials and manufactured products. Without the efficient port system and accompanying inland delivery system, imported consumer goods such as clothing, electronic goods, and seasonal fruit would not reach store shelves.

The shopper at the local market does not have a sense of how his basket of goods came to be. It came via a complex logistical chain of events that begin at the first point of entry to our country, Canada’s ports.

Economic Impact

Ships carry over 90 percent of world trade. One average size container ship can carry $30-$50 million of cargo. The trade volume through Canadian ports is expected to double over the next 15 to 20 years. In recent years, Canada’s major ports have made great strides in reducing door-to-door transportation costs and times, as well as improving infrastructure and equipment. But more work needs to be done to ensure Canada has the necessary port-related infrastructure to continue to serve important supply chains and reap the economic benefits produced by ports.

Canada’s seaports are key to moving goods and people via complex logistical supply chains extending to seaports in more than 160 countries throughout the world. Every year Canada’s Port Authorities contribute much to Canada’s economy:

  • Over 340 million tonnes of cargo
  • Over $200 billion worth of goods
  • 213,000 direct and indirect jobs
  • $14 billion in salaries
  • $25 billion added to Canada's GDP
  • More than 1.3 million cruise ship passengers
  • $53 billion in economic activity

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