Buttigieg, Canadian officials unveil new study showing importance of Great Lakes shipping ⋆
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Canadian Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra and leaders from the maritime shipping industry on Friday in announcing a new economic study that underscores the significance of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system in North American supply chain efficiency.
The announcement event, hosted by the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and its Canadian counterpart, featured analysis of statistics relating to cargo shipping, job creation and binational collaboration to exhibit the role of the Seaway in both American and Canadian commerce.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig speaks at the virtual event unveiling a new economic study on shipping in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. Buttigeig said that the waterways are crucial to American and Canadian commerce. | Screenshot
Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Ind., mayor who now lives in Traverse City, said growing up in the Great Lakes region helped him understand the vitality of the waterways to America’s economic function.
“I am very much a creature of the Great Lakes,” Buttigieg said. “I grew up in northern Indiana. I worked in Chicago, married a Michigander who comes from Upper Peninsula stock and went to school in Wisconsin, and we now live in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. So I know full well how much the Great Lakes region powers North America.”
The study, conducted by the economic transport firm Martin Associates, reported that cargo moved on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System in 2022 totaled 135.7 million metric tons valued at U.S. $26.1 billion, supporting 241,286 U.S. and Canadian jobs and generating $36 billion in economic activity.
Buttigieg said that those metrics of a successful maritime shipping industry in the Great Lakes have an impact that extends far beyond the region itself.
“If the Great Lakes region were to be its own economy it would be the third largest in the world, behind only China and the United States itself,” Buttigieg said. “And if you live or work in the Great Lakes region, you already know how vital this region is to our economy. But even if you live nowhere near the Great Lakes, as far away as Texas or California or Florida, what we’re discussing today has a great deal of relevance to your everyday life.”
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system’s use as a shipping route dates back over 200 years to when fur traders and indigenous tribes used the waterways as their main avenue of transporting goods. In 2023, it’s characterized by 110 ports in eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, which oversee the transport of goods for agriculture, manufacturing and everyday use.
“When people across America are going shopping for groceries, filling up their car or picking up a package on their doorstep at home, there’s a very good chance that those are products that have moved along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway,” Buttigieg said.
The system, which begins in Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior’s westernmost end and stretches beyond Montreal to the Atlantic Ocean, pays roughly $17.8 billion in wages to its workers, according to the study.
The impact of a binational shipping route like the seaway system has tethered the U.S. and Canada in what Alghabra described as a mutually beneficial relationship that allowed both countries to innovate through the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recovery.
“No two countries depend more on each other for their mutual prosperity and security than Canada and the US,” Alghabra said. “The economic significance of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway system to both our countries cannot be overstated.”
While the study’s emphasis is on the economic impacts of the seaway system, Buttigieg and Alghabra said that prioritizing shipping over water can have positive environmental outcomes, as well.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) transits the St. Lawrence Seaway lock system.| U.S. Navy photo via Flickr Public Domain
“Every ton that moves on our waterways is moving with less pollution than other modes of shipping, something we’re paying more and more attention to and bearing in mind as we see deadly floods in the Northeast, record breaking heat in the American West, and wildfires across Canada,” Buttigieg said.
Alghabra said that recent discussions among transportation leaders at the June G7 summit in Japan made it apparent that prioritizing sustainability within maritime shipping would be crucial to keeping the seaway functional while maintaining the health of the Great Lakes watershed.
“We have jointly announced our commitment to helping establish a green shipping corridors network in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system,” Alghabra said. “This initiative underscores our shared goal of reducing pollution and promoting sustainable practices along the Seaway and in the marine shipping sector.”
Initiatives like green shipping corridors and improvements to Great Lakes ports have been bolstered by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure law, which Buttigieg said has already granted millions of dollars towards updating lock systems, shipyards and functionality of maritime travel.
With the information included in the 2023 report, he said policymakers and industry officials will be better prepared to make further investments in the Seaway’s infrastructure and explore solutions for more sustainable shipping.
“The report’s conclusion is very clear,” Buttigieg said. “Maritime commerce on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway remains essential to the economy of the United States and Canada.”
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authored by Lily Guiney
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