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Canadian trade with China jumped 18 per cent last year at the Port of Vancouver, fuelling an overall increase in cargo volumes despite the pandemic.

China accounted for 34.9 million tonnes of exported and imported cargo in 2020, making it the largest trading partner with Canada at the Vancouver port.

Exports made up 77 per cent of Canada-China tonnage in 2020, up from 74 per cent in 2019.

In total, Canada’s largest port saw an improvement in overall cargo volumes of 1 per cent to 145.5 million tonnes last year, overcoming the pandemic’s disruptions to the global supply chain.

The second-largest trading partner in 2020 was Japan, followed by South Korea, according to statistics released on Monday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

But in contrast to brisk Canada-China trade, year-over-year cargo volumes with Japan fell 5 per cent to 17 million tonnes.

The number of Japanese vehicles imported into Canada dropped 21 per cent last year.

“Not surprisingly, it wasn’t top of mind for most Canadians last year to buy a new car, so we saw some slowdown in imports there,” Robin Silvester, the port authority’s chief executive officer, said in an interview.

Trade through the port between Canada and South Korea declined 16 per cent to 12.4 million tonnes, while Canada-Indonesia trade climbed 22 per cent to 2.9 million tonnes.

“So, it’s a mixed bag but I think fundamentally, strong export opportunities for Canada, with high-quality products produced here that are in demand around the world,” Mr. Silvester said.

He added that the port’s resiliency and growth are important during a time when many other parts of the Canadian economy are struggling.

On the export side, the port experienced record-high levels of shipments of grain and potash.

“You have to look across the whole commodity basket to see what’s going on – grain being the standout,” Mr. Silvester said. “It was a remarkably strong year for grain exports.”

For example, shipments of canola and barley surged 45 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively. Wheat volumes rose 25 per cent.

Cargo from containers, including imported consumer goods from Asia and exports of commodities, rose 2 per cent at the Vancouver port last year to a record 3.5 million for an industry measurement called TEUs (20-foot equivalent units).

The shipping industry deploys large vessels to carry containers, which are reusable steel boxes.

The port authority is the federal landlord for marine terminal operators, including Westshore Terminals Investment Corp. and Neptune Bulk Terminals (Canada) Ltd., which handle commodities such as coal.

Shipments through the Vancouver port of metallurgical coal, which goes into making steel, decreased 15 per cent last year. Volumes for thermal coal, which is used by power plants in Asia, declined 13 per cent.

No cruise ships docked at the port after the cancellation of vacation sailings in 2020 amid the pandemic.

“I’m sure we’ll reach a stage where cruising becomes practical again,” Mr. Silvester said. “We know from conversations we’re having with the cruise lines that they have a lot of pent-up demand, a lot of people who are regular cruisers who want to get back on a cruise ship. We’re looking forward to playing our part in restarting that when it’s safe to do so.”

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