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Port of Vancouver ranks among the worst in the world, according to World Bank report

Do you agree Port of Vancouver ranks among the worst in the world?

The Port of Vancouver — the main gateway for consumer goods entering Canada from the manufacturing powerhouses in Asia — is among the worst performers, ranking 368th out of 370 ports around the world, according to a new report.

Compiled by the World Bank and S&P Global Inc., the report brings fresh information to conversations on port performance, a subject that the authors note is notoriously difficult to evaluate due to poor data and inconsistent tracking metrics around the world.

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Port efficiency has taken on a new level of urgency, given the extreme supply disruptions that have come to characterize the economic recovery from the COVID recession. The world woke up to the critical role of maritime traffic in March 2021 when a container-laden ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, clogging a key shipping passage for the better part of a week, leading to ripple effects that lasted much longer. The incident served as a harbinger of the future havoc the pandemic would inflict in the form of port congestion.

Now, as companies and countries reconfigure supply chains and economists debate what’s causing the fastest inflation in decades, ports are facing fresh scrutiny. Policymakers are parsing whether West Coast ports that experienced congestion, such as Vancouver but also Los Angeles and Long Beach in the U.S., underperformed, or were simply overwhelmed by a heightened demand for consumer goods.

The ranking is based on data gathered in 2021, an unusual year that saw global demand recover surprisingly quickly from the epic collapse caused by early waves of COVID-19. Several experts said even the most efficient ports would have struggled to cope with the surge in demand for goods that occurred during the pandemic. Nathan Strang, director of ocean trade lane management at Flexport Inc., a logistics consulting firm, said the impacts of the pandemic combined with unexpected demand for consumer goods created a one-two punch that lead to congestion at ports on the West Coast.

“If you have a cup that can hold 12 ounces of liquid, and you pour 13 ounces in, it’s going to spill over until you can reduce the volume in that cup,” said Strang.

‘Negative feedback loop’

That’s essentially what happened at North America’s West Coast ports. As the pandemic spread around the world it lead to unusual fluctuations in port traffic, creating a “negative feedback loop” as soon as West Coast ports reached capacity, Strang said. “The more congestion there was, the more desire there was to move the cargo quicker, and the more likely those ships were going to the West Coast because of that shorter transit time,” he said.

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