As a Canada Port Authority, we have a public interest mandate to enable Canada’s trade objectives, while protecting the environment and considering local communities. This work includes planning and building trade-enabling infrastructure in and around the Port of Vancouver to support sustainable port growth.

One sector that remains on a long-term growth trajectory is container trade. Containers provide Canadian businesses and consumers with access to everyday goods found on store shelves and Canadian exporters access to global markets, which supports our standard of living. There are several reasons for this sustained period of high growth, including ongoing economic and population growth in Canada and around the world; the opening of China’s economy in the early 2000s; and the increasing preference for containers as an easier and cost-effective option to move goods, such as grain, lumber, and steel, that were previously shipped by other methods.

To ensure there is enough container terminal capacity for this growing trade on Canada’s west coast, we regularly commission independent, expert third-party container traffic forecasts that consider long-term trends in global markets and trade, as well as other drivers of container traffic demand. Forecasts show that without new terminal space, the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert will run out of capacity for containers by the end of this decade. This would lead to a capacity crunch that would see increased transportation costs passed on to Canadians from cargo being diverted to U.S. ports, and the lost opportunity for new jobs and economic benefits in local communities.

Planning to meet demand

To address the pending shortfall in container capacity, the port authority has:

  • Increased the size and efficiency of existing container terminals at the Port of Vancouver, working with terminal operators, for example:
    • We completed the Deltaport Third Berth expansion in 2010, which added 600,000 TEUs at Roberts Bank in Delta
    • As part of the Deltaport Terminal Road and Rail Improvement Project, we completed improvements in and around Deltaport in 2018 that created an additional 600,000 TEUs of capacity, with Global Container Terminals Canada and the Province of British Columbia
    • In partnership with DP World, we completed construction on the Centerm Expansion Project in Vancouver in 2023, adding 600,000 TEUs of container capacity by increasing the terminal footprint by 15%
  • Explored whether other port terminals could be converted to handle containers
  • Examined and pursued the possibility of building a new terminal

Delivering Roberts Bank Terminal 2, for Canada’s trade future

In anticipation of this growth, we are leading the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, a future marine container terminal in Delta, B.C. that will create 2.4 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers of capacity at the Port of Vancouver. Once operational, the terminal will be a critical link for Canada’s supply chains, increasing container terminal capacity by more than 30% on Canada’s west coast, supporting competition in the Pacific gateway, and strengthening reliable access to the goods Canadians use every day. The project will also play a critical role in supporting Canadian exporters who increasingly want to trade with economies around the world.

With 26 Indigenous groups providing consent for the project to proceed, Roberts Bank Terminal 2 was approved by the Government of Canada in April 2023, following a rigorous 10-year federal environmental assessment process. Before construction can begin, we still need to complete several key steps, including obtaining the remaining regulatory approvals and permits (such as a Fisheries Act Authorization), ongoing collaboration with Indigenous groups, assessing market conditions, undertaking procurement, and preparing for a final investment decision. As the federal environmental assessment process took much longer than previously anticipated, we now expect the new terminal will be operational in the early to mid-2030s. This update to the project timeline is reflected in our latest container trade forecast graphic below.

The graphic above shows the capacity at different container terminals at the Port of Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert, along with the historical and available future container terminal capacity on Canada’s west coast once Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is operational.

The graphic above shows the capacity at different container terminals at the Port of Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert, along with the historical and available future container terminal capacity on Canada’s west coast once Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is operational.

How the container shipping industry has changed over the last decade 

Since the start of the environmental assessment for this project in 2013, there have been developments in the container shipping industry, such as larger ship sizes and the formation of new shipping company alliances. This motivated the port authority to commission forecasts in 2018 and 2021 of container ship traffic travelling through the Salish Sea and serving Pacific Northwest ports, with or without the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project. The conclusion was that the total number of container ships that serve Port of Vancouver container terminals will be the same. What will change is the size of container ships and the distribution of ships calling container terminals at the Port of Vancouver.

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