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Port of Thunder Bay in wait-and-see year, grain sale to Soviets still not finalized.

Port of Thunder Bay in wait-and-see year, grain sale to Soviets still not finalized

Industry experts are predicting a small increase in tonnage through the port of Thunder Bay this year.

At the `opening of navigation' luncheon in April, Grain Transportation Agency administrator Peter Thomson said the agency was expecting a moderate increase in grain unloads through the port this crop year - 8.3 million metric tons out of a total estimated prairie production of 45.4 million tons, compared to 7.1 million tons out of 40.6 million tons produced during 1989-90.

However, Thomson cautioned that the estimates were only preliminary and could change, depending on how crops fare this summer.

While noting optimists can be pleased with soil moisture improvements in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, he warned, "Production will depend on timely rains throughout the production season."

Thomson also said he expects a report to Agriculture Canada on the Western Grain Transportation Act by the end of June.

The act provides subsidies which make it cheaper to move grain by rail through West Coast ports, rather than through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The federal government provides an annual $720 million in subsidies for rail transportation of grain. However, there is no such subsidy for marine transportation.

As more grain moves west to the growing markets of Asia, the use of the Lakehead has declined. In fact, the number of bulkers has dropped from 84 to 57 over the past eight years.

Movement of dry-bulk goods through Thunder Bay this year is expected to be comparable to past years, according to Kurt Ogris, president of Thunder Bay Terminals Ltd.

Ogris predicted a six-per-cent drop in this year's coal tonnage - 4.3 million tons, compared to last year's 4.6 million tons.

While the Darlington nuclear generating station is expected to help meet power demands in the next two years, Ogris expects there will still be reasonably steady markets for coal.

The movement of potash will depend on fertilizer demand, he said.

Ogris predicted overall potash tonnage should be the same as in 1989, about 1.4 to 1.5 million tons.

Norman Hall, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association, said the association is expecting a reduction in shipping this year.

He noted that, in 1988, member companies shipped about 80 million tons of cargo, while this year's tonnage could reach "a modern-day low" of 74 million tons.

In his speech Hall lashed out against increasing government regulation of maritime shipping, asking, "Whatever happened to the expression, `freedom to move' that we heard about so much a few years back?"

Hall said a recent National Transportation Agency review of the Western Grain Transportation Act appears to have convinced the NTA that subsidizing railway companies is distorting the market and putting Thunder Bay's port at a disadvantage.

Hall warned, however, paying producers will not necessarily mean "a bonanza for Thunder Bay." He said changes will not have as much effect as would be the case if trade patterns change from east-west to north-south into the United States.

In an interview, Nora Logan, manager of public relations with the Thunder Bay Harbor Commission, said it's wait and see this year.

"If it's a good crop, everyone will be busy," she said.

However, Logan noted that the anticipated large grain sale to the Soviet Union has not materialized.

Such a sale would be shipped through Thunder Bay.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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