MONTREAL:The free trade deal between Canada and the European Union has boosted container shipping and prompted a hiring spree at the docks, Montreal port officials say.
The volume moving through the gates of the country’s second largest port jumped 19.7 per cent in July compared to the same month last year, hitting the equivalent of about 147,000 20-foot (6-metre) containers, according to the Maritime Employers Association.
Container imports increased 7.8 per cent to nearly 4.33 million tonnes in the first seven months of this year versus the same period in 2017, with the bulk of that traffic coming from Europe.
The employers association, which handles training for the port workforce as well as the Montreal Port Authority, attribute much of the container inflow to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement signed by Canada and the European Union in 2016.
CETA came into provisional effect last September, offering Canadian companies broader access to one of the world’s largest markets.
The extra dock traffic spurred the association to start hiring 50 more longshoremen and 15 more auditors, and resulted in several key terminals nearly doubling their operating time to 17 hours each workday.
Stephane Morency, president and chief executive of the association, said the surge stems largely from food and metal imports that range from wine and cheese to steel girders, with work on Montreal’s new Champlain Bridge — slated to open in December — a major driver.
“There’s a lot of steel on that bridge. And a lot of those big I-beams — huge I-beams — are coming from Europe,” he said.
Overall traffic during the first half of the year actually dropped 4.9 per cent to 17.75 million tonnes compared to the first six months of 2017, according to port figures.
A precipitous drop in bulk cargo, particularly grain exports, prompted the dip, said Pierre-Yves Boivin, vice-president of the federation that represents Quebec’s chambers of commerce.