Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Opportunities & Constraints for Canada in the Global Movement of Goods

(CIFFA eBulletin)

Time for a New National Vision: Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications

The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications has focused its efforts during the past year and a half on an in-depth examination of the Canadian container transportation system. The Committee began its hearings in June 2006 and completed its study in April 2008. [Its] goal was to find ways to allow Canada’s containerized freight transportation system to become more competitive so that Canada can attract a greater share of the North American container traffic.

With Asia’s largest market on one end, and North America’s largest market on the other, China to Chicago is a very important trade route for containerized traffic. With Canada’s ports strategically positioned to handle this traffic flow, the committee decided to examine the present constraints in the system as well as how these could be addressed in order to take advantage of future market possibilities.

The container system in Canada is made up of a number of components – ships, railroads, trucks, container/marine terminals, information technology and labour. The policy environment in which these various components operate is a patchwork of federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions. What the Committee found was that each level of government has a significant impact on each of these components and that each has a vital role to play in ensuring that the system works at an optimal level. In addition, the private sector is a key driver in how the system is financed.

The committee found that there were a number of areas that require attention in order for the system to operate as a seamless network from coast to coast. These include: improving railroad services; rationalizing a patchwork of trucking regulations across the country; dealing with labour shortages in the industry; updating port policies; improving infrastructure; dealing with environmental issues; and integrating more information technology into the container transportation system. While Canada is in a unique position to take advantage of the expanding container traffic, the Committee recognizes that these challenges will have to be addressed in order for this to take place.

The committee strongly believes that container transportation must be viewed as a system and that each part must function efficiently if the supply chain is to flourish. Today, there are fragile links in the system, such as port congestion, system reliability, labour shortages, uncoordinated government policy, and under utilization of information technology. The report looks at these and other issues in terms of national policy and Canada’s place in the international movement of containers.

The complete summary including the list of recommendations to improve container transportation in Canada can be found here and the full report (PDF format) is available here.