Preparing for Shifting Trade Routes

How North American ports prepare for shifting trade routes depends on the type of cargo, the adoption of global technology and whether they are adapting their services.

*By Mary R. Brooks*

In answering this question, much depends on the type of cargo a particular port serves, and whether the port is prepared to adopt global technology, and adapt its service offering to meet propulsion change decisions being taken by their shipping line customers.

How global trade is shifting for bulk ports is quite different than the evolving patterns seen by container ports. Agricultural trade has long reflected both the politics of trade and the challenges of weather, and both have become more volatile. Given this, flexibility is key. For example, China has banned soybeans from Canada and Canadian ports can do little about it except to identify whether there are other products that may create new opportunities for traders. In the cases of oil and thermal coal, total demand for trade in fossil fuels is facing headwinds globally; it has been projected by McKinsey both coal and oil demand will continue to decline. As alternate energy sources are gradually adopted, bulk shipping will obviously be affected. The primary takeaway for the bulk sector: not since the cold war has the world faced such supply/demand uncertainty, and ports can expect that uncertainty to be magnified. Trade routes will shift, and while ports may not be able to predict how it will impact them, they can make monitoring the critical sectors they serve a priority. With more news feeds available than can be managed in an ad hoc way, a well-designed monitoring program will prepare the astute port management team to plan its strategy and partner with companies in their hinterland to exploit any new opportunities.

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