The big build westward
Canada entered a new era last year when China unseated the United Kingdom as our largest overseas trading partner. Exports to China have nearly doubled since 2008, reaching $20 billion last year. This caps a 50-year trend: while Canada’s primary trade relationship remains with the United States, our overseas trade is shifting westward toward faster-growing and more populous Asia. This logistical pivot from Atlantic to Pacific is proving neither cheap nor easy, especially in terms of physical infrastructure. Road, rail, container and bulk terminal expansions worth at least $11 billion are planned or under construction. The currently proposed investment in oil and natural gas export infrastructure exceeds $10 billion and $50 billion, respectively. Demand for more shipping capacity is coming not just from Canada, but from American exporters and importers looking to route supply chains through Vancouver and Prince Rupert to reach Asian markets faster. These mega-projects are fraught with challenges ranging from new engineering demands to public opposition.But to look at any one pipeline or container-port controversy in isolation is to miss the big picture of inexorable change in the world economy and Canada’s place within it. After all, the push to expand North America’s Pacific gateway has barely begun.