In ACOA’s new Atlantic Gateway business case, the gap between the past and future is wider than the Suez Canal.

Global trade has boomed since 2000, but Halifax is alone among major East Coast North America container ports in suffering a decline in traffic. New York is up more than 50 per cent. Halifax is down three per cent.

The business case anticipates a better future. It predicts 18 years of steady growth for Atlantic Canadian container ports, outpacing the expansion of world-wide container traffic. The report forecasts $3.4 billion in economic growth from the Atlantic Gateway. Container traffic accounts for two-thirds of that figure.

Atlantic Institute of Market Studies acting president Charles Cirtwill had his own prediction: ACOA Minister Peter MacKay will use the report to leverage money from the federal treasury.

“This is an exercise in the federal government convincing themselves that there is a justification for the $2 billion they set aside a few months ago,” he said.

MacKay said the huge potential identified in the report demonstrates the need for investment.

“We have simply to get out there and work harder, work more efficiently and make the case to bring the goods and services here,” MacKay told reporters. “We have to pick up the pace to make sure we are making strategic investments here.”

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council released another gateway report last March. Senior economist David Chaundy said APEC intentionally avoided growth predictions, because changes in container traffic are based on big shifts by shipping lines.

“It’s something you can’t predict accurately,” he said.

The APEC report suggested Halifax should build capacity ahead of demand. Expansion of existing container terminals and a new inland trans-shipment facility might be needed. But Chaundy said there is scope to significantly increase trade without new infrastructure investment.

“Where we do need help is marketing,” Chaundy said.