By Alwyn G. Soppitt
Appeared on page A5


Late last week, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council released a comprehensive transportation gateway report identifying all the key components to be considered in respect to establishing a gateway in Atlantic Canada – port, rail and road infrastructure, security and border crossing efficiencies, regulatory challenges and recognition of where we as a region fit in the international supply chains.

The report highlights the benefits of the Port of Halifax but quite frankly, it misses the boat by failing to also recognize the full potential of Saint John as a viable gateway port.

The Atlantic Gateway has to be more than a one-point-of-entry initiative and has to bring all the region’s assets to bear to provide cost-effective and efficient transportation options for imports and exports to and from Canada and North America.

The drivers of the gateway will be two ports, not one. Halifax and Saint John are two very different ports, which collectively can be a powerhouse for the region and there are equally great opportunities for the Port of Saint John as there are for Halifax.

The report rightly recognizes the role Saint John does and will continue to play with respect to developments in the energy sector. With respect, however, to a comprehensive Atlantic Gateway, the federal government is developing a national gateway policy and what they are seeking is a regional approach, not a one-port strategy.

Development of the Pacific Gateway was driven by the growth in trade with China. It is direct route from the Far East to a one-province coastline. It took 12 years to put it together and it evolved through three steps – the work of the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, the B.C. Ports Strategy and now the Pacific Gateway Initiative.

There is an opportunity here to develop an Atlantic Gateway, but it is more complex. We are dealing with four jurisdictions, all having a coastline and we have a different transportation model than on the West Coast. The success and value of an Atlantic Gateway depends on the supply chain links to the major markets. Atlantic Canadian importers and exporters are not the sustainable element of that equation.

What is required is a co-ordinated strategy and business case that will demonstrate the value of the gateway to Canadian trade. The movement of bulk and break bulk cargo also has to be considered – to accomplish this goal, strategists need to step out side the container box. Movement of all goods puts pressure on the transportation system, and solutions need to be found for all sectors. In our industry there is a concern that rail capacity, due to growth in containers, will affect the movement of other goods, particularly in bulk.

Saint John has many attributes, which were overlooked in the report, and offers its own uniqueness:

·  We have deep water.

·  We have diverse facilities in good condition in the bulk, break bulk and container sectors.

·  We have a container terminal with capacity to grow and we have the ability to expand.

·  Saint John Inner Harbour can accommodate up to 4,500 TEU container vessels.

·  We have rail options with access to three different rail systems in all directions.

·  We have easy and direct access to the highway without impacting on city streets.

·  We do not need to move containers inland for trans-loading to truck. This can be done at or near to the port.

·  There are three industrial parks available for development in proximity to the port.

·  Our closer proximity to the U.S. border and the international efforts to increase highway capacity through Maine to New York and our rail linkages to the United States will play largely into growing container traffic here.

We believe features of existing ports must be capitalized on before considering greenfield investment at other locations.

India and South East Asia present opportunities for Saint John and New Brunswick, and Saint John will play an important and strategic role in the gateway strategy. The Port of Saint John is well positioned for trade in the north-south corridor and potentially for opportunities in short sea shipping.

The road to success is an Atlantic Canadian strategy developed through the co-operation and participation of all four provinces. Together, as a region with two major ports and a number of smaller ones, we can jointly tap into global trade.

Alwyn G. Soppitt is President and CEO, Saint John Port Authority.