Skip to main content

The businesses and ports that trade on the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes are urging NAFTA negotiators to return to the table and hoping for a détente in an escalating trade battle.

Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, a coalition of Canadian and U.S. shippers, ship owners and port operators on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, said Canada-U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum and other goods have yet to be felt. He attributed a decline of 25 per cent in iron ore shipments in the January-to-May period to a slow start to the shipping season due to ice cover in some areas of the water route. Since May, volumes of ore and other commodities are closer to 2017’s figures, though the numbers have not been released, he said.

“Obviously, no one wants to have extra tariffs put in place,” Mr. Burrows said by phone from Ottawa. ”I think the logistics chain and the supply chain is dealing with that in the short term. Call me again in another month and I’ll probably have an updated view on that. But at the moment I think they’re sort of contending with it as a short-term issue.”

Story continues below advertisement

A typical ship sailing to Thunder Bay or Duluth, Minn., from Montreal crosses the Canada-U.S. border 26 times. It’s a path Mr. Burrows said highlights the interwoven supply chain, and the importance of allowing goods to flow freely between the two countries. “We have such as integrated trade system between the two countries and I think it’s important that we focus to some extent on getting [NAFTA] talks finalized so we can move forward. I think stability is important in the region. A lot of our typical cargoes are critical for cross-border trade,” he said.

But the intensifying trade war in recent months threatens that balance.

Ottawa has retaliated against U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminium and steel with taxes on a long list of goods, including metals.

The marine group released a study on Wednesday that says cargo shipments to the 40 ports on the 3,700-kilometre trade route generate $60-billion worth of economic activity in Canada and the United States, including 180,000 jobs in Ontario and Quebec. Almost four million tonnes of steel worth $3.3-billion moved on the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Seaway in 2017, the third-most-valuable cargo after petroleum and grain. Iron ore, a commodity used to make steel, is the fourth-most-valuable cargo, at $3-billion.

Mr. Burrows said the study is not part of any free-trade lobbying effort, but seeks to highlight the economic importance of the shipping route. “We’ve got a lot of jobs at stake here,” he said.

A spokeswoman for ship owner CSL Group said the company has not seen a decline in Canadian ore shipments but would not be surprised if tariffs had a negative effect on future volumes.

Brigitte Hébert said the tariffs have led to a “rapid decrease” in the amount of U.S. iron destined for Quebec, where it is transferred to overseas markets. Instead, the U.S. commodity is being delivered to American ports, Ms. Hébert said, a trade Montreal-based CSL is barred from handling because of U.S. laws.

Story continues below advertisement

The Port of Hamilton is home to two major steel companies and has added grain capacity to move a growing supply of Canadian crops to overseas buyers. Ian Hamilton, chief executive officer of the port on Lake Ontario, said cargo volumes this year are “exceptionally good,” thanks to a strong activity at Stelco and ArcelorMittal Dofasco in addition to new grain capacity. The port’s volumes are up by 14 per cent year to date, led by a 70-per-cent rise in agriculture products and a 14-per-cent rise in steel- related cargo.

But he said the stalled North American free-trade agreement talks and tariffs have led to a “cautious environment” in Hamilton’s steel industry, which relies on U.S. markets. Adding to the uncertainty is a rise in non-U.S. steel imports that followed the imposition of U.S. tariffs on steel and quickly filled the port’s warehouses.

Mr. Hamilton echoed the call to resume NAFTA talks, but urged businesses to look for buyers and suppliers in new markets.

“We’ve always had a great friend in the United States, a great trading partner and hopefully that may continue but it’s times like this when you say, okay, let’s maybe make sure we build some more flexibility into our business models and make sure we recognize there are other markets out,” he said.

A spokeswoman for ship owner CSL Group said the company has not seen a decline in Canadian ore shipments but would not be surprised if tariffs had a negative effect on future volumes.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter