International Trade Rebounds

Statistics Canada

International trade in goods rebounded significantly in 2021, following the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020. The value of Canada’s merchandise exports and imports rose to record highs in 2021, while the number of goods exporters and importers both went up year over year.

Led by a rise in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that export, the number of goods exporters went up by 9.3% to reach 47,701 in 2021. This total, which surpassed the pre-pandemic level of 2019, was the highest level recorded since 2007. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the number of exporters declined until 2011 and remained below pre-financial crisis levels.

Value of merchandise trade by two-way traders surpasses $1 trillion 

Overall, 177,799 Canadian enterprises traded goods internationally in 2021; 30,156 (17.0%) were two-way traders. These businesses, both importers and exporters, are strongly integrated into global supply chains. Over two-fifths of two-way traders were manufacturing enterprises, despite manufacturers comprising 1 in 6 of all traders. By value, two-way traders imported and exported just over $1.0 trillion worth of goods in 2021, accounting for 87.7% of total merchandise trade value.

The rest of traders were either exporters only (17,545) or importers only (130,098). Compared with pre-pandemic figures from 2019, the number of exporters only was up 15.2%, while the number of two-way traders (-0.5%) and importers only (-2.3%) had not yet fully recovered by 2021.

Small and medium-sized enterprises lead recovery from the pandemic in the number of traders 

The vast majority (98.8%) of traders in 2021 were SMEs, although they accounted for less than half (45.9%) of Canada’s total merchandise trade value. Hence, SMEs typically drive fluctuations in the number of traders, while any enterprise can contribute to changes in trade value.

The number of exporters and the value of exports went up in 2021 as the economy recovered. A year-over-year rise in the number of SME exporters (+9.5%), higher than that of large exporters (+4.5%), was primarily responsible for an upswing in exporters. In terms of export value, both SMEs (+21.2%) and large enterprises (+22.4%) contributed to the recovery. 

Like with exporters, the number of SME importers (+3.1%) rose faster than the number of large importing enterprises (+1.5%) in2021. On the other hand, the growth in SME import value (+10.6%) was outpaced by large enterprises (+14.3%).

Significant increase in the number of enterprises trading with the United States

Canada and the United States share a deep and longstanding relationship vital for Canadian traders. The United States was the only export destination for nearly two-thirds (63.9%) of all Canadian exporters in 2021.

Between 2020 and 2021, the number of exporters to the United States increased by a record amount (+4,318), while the number of enterprises importing from the United States went up by 3,192, the highest increase since 2010.

On the other hand, the number of exporters to other significant regions, notably Europe (-313) and Asia (-299), declined for a second consecutive year. Exporters to Asia dropped to the lowest level since 2010, mainly among enterprises exporting to China, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

More exporters sell to one partner country only

Accessing foreign markets is essential for Canadian enterprises to grow their business, especially in disruptions within international supply chains.

The increase in 2021 in the number of exporting enterprises (+4,071) was driven by a rise in those exporting to one partner country only (+4,168), mainly SMEs that exported exclusively to the United States (+4,332). At the same time, the number of enterprises exporting to multiple countries declined slightly (-97) for a second consecutive year. In 2021, 26.1% of all exporters sold goods to numerous partner countries, the lowest share on record.

In comparison, the number of importers that bought goods from one partner country only (+2,492) or from multiple partner countries (+2,292) both went up annually. In 2021, nearly half of all importers (48.3%) purchased goods from various partner countries, and they were responsible for almost all of Canada’s import value (97.3%).

Western Canada has the largest recovery in the number of exporters

Recovery in the number of traders was widespread across Canada. The number of exporting establishments rose in all provinces and territories in 2021, while the number of importers went up in all regions except the territories (-4.8%).

Exporter growth was highest in western Canada, where Manitoba (+10.2%), Saskatchewan (+15.7%), Alberta (+16.0%), and British Columbia (+10.0%) all recorded double-digit growth related to more exporters within services-producing industries.

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