Business

Federal trade minister skirts coal export issue

BNSF Railway sales manager Blake Kotylak thanks International Trade Minister Ed Fast at the end of his Aug. 7 speech to the Surrey Board of Trade. - Jeff Nagel / Black Press
BNSF Railway sales manager Blake Kotylak thanks International Trade Minister Ed Fast at the end of his Aug. 7 speech to the Surrey Board of Trade.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

International Trade Minister Ed Fast won't say if he supports the controversial export of U.S. coal through Port Metro Vancouver, which is proposed to greatly increase if a new terminal is approved at Fraser Surrey Docks.

The federal minister was asked that question by Black Press following a speech Thursday before the Surrey Board of Trade.

Port Metro Vancouver maintains its role is strictly to act as a conduit for all cargo and that any policy decisions to exclude certain commodities would be up to the federal cabinet.

"I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the application to develop a coal terminal on the Fraser River," Fast responded.

He said it's always his goal to expedite trade in and out of Canada, but environmental standards must be met and regulatory processes must be followed.

"I'm confident that the process is fair and I'm prepared to wait for that process to be completed before commenting further."

Port Metro Vancouver could decide at any time on the Fraser Surrey Docks direct coal transfer facility.

It would take at least four million tonnes per year of U.S. coal by train through White Rock and Surrey and send it by barge down the Fraser River to Texada Island for reloading to ocean-going ships.

Climate change activists think U.S. coal might stay in the ground and not be burnt overseas if new coal terminals aren't built in Metro Vancouver or along the U.S. west coast.

Fast was less reticent when asked if he's concerned that public resistance to port expansion and pipelines in B.C. poses an impediment to Canadian trade with the Pacific region.

He said it's "absolutely imperative" to get Canadian resources to new buyers so they are no longer captive to U.S. markets.

"We leave tens of billions of dollars on the table every year because we don't have that critical infrastructure in place," Fast said, adding regulatory reviews must be completed before any projects are judged.

Fast's speech to the business audience highlighted growing trade opportunities with Europe as well as South Korea as a result of lowered tariffs.

He predicted B.C. growers of blueberries and cherries will be among the beneficiaries of expanded markets.

Another focus is India, where Fast will lead a trade mission in October.

Fast also said B.C. could be in line for more federal infrastructure grants to support port and trade-related gateway infrastructure, on top of the billions previously spent on projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road and various rail overpasses to ease the flow of goods.

"There's another $4 billion we will be investing to make sure that the geographic advantage we have already in the Asia Pacific is preserved."

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