SAINT JOHN – The Saint John Port Authority wants to make the Atlantic Gateway a global trade destination.

While the Port of Halifax focuses on capturing more post-Panamax size container traffic travelling to North America from Asia via the Suez Canal, Saint John is concentrating on moving more bulk, break bulk and containerized goods to and from Latin America and South America.

“Saint John is a major player, it is a major Canadian port … it’s New Brunswick’s largest port and we have a significant role to play in the Atlantic Gateway,” says Capt. Al Soppitt, president and chief executive officer of the Saint John Port Authority.

“Where Saint John is going to play a major role is in Latin America.”

Soppitt’s comments come as the Saint John Port Authority hosts its annual Port Days conference this week.

The two-day event is focused on the Atlantic Gateway and includes a panel discussion today on developing the gateway featuring Soppitt, John Knubley, associate deputy minister for Transport Canada, David Plante, vice-president of the New Brunswick division of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and David Verbiwski, Consul (commercial) of the Consulate General of Canada in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna will give the luncheon keynote address for the conference at 12:30 p.m.

The Port Days’ events today are taking place at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre.

Soppitt said focusing on Latin America and South America makes more sense than trying to compete against Halifax for Asian container traffic.

While Saint John is focused on Latin and South America, it’s not ignoring opportunities in India or China, Soppitt added.

Mary Brooks, a professor of marketing and transportation and William A. Black chairman of the commerce department at Dalhousie University, said Saint John’s focus on Latin America and South America is a smart move.

“If you think about it terms of network configuration, Saint John is a logical choice for north-south trade,” said Brooks. “It’s closer to Brazil than Savannah, Georgia is.”

Brooks said most don’t tend to think about Atlantic Canada being closer to South America than U.S. East Coast ports.

Brooks said the Atlantic Gateway has to be about more than capturing Asian trade.

“I don’t understand why it seems to have always been about just Asian containers. It’s kind of like it captured everyone’s imagination that way. But really it’s about (global) trade flows.”

Brooks said in addition to opportunities in the southern hemisphere, Saint John also has potential to do short-sea shipping to the U.S. east coast.

“Saint John’s opportunity is bulk goods, it’s energy.”