Canadian international merchandise trade: Annual review

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Canada's international merchandise trade rebounded in 2010 from substantial declines the year before, but levels remained below those immediately prior to the economic downturn. At the same time, Canada's reliance on the United States as a trading partner fell even further as trade with Asia, particularly China, rose.

The 2010 international merchandise trade annual review reveals that exports rose 9.5% to $404.6 billion, led by higher exports of industrial goods and materials. Imports increased 10.6% to $413.6 billion, as volumes rose in all sectors.

As a result, Canada's trade deficit nearly doubled from $4.6 billion in 2009 to $9.0 billion in 2010.

The United States' share of Canada's trade (exports and imports combined) continued to fall in 2010, although it remained Canada's largest trading partner. The United States represented 62.5% of total merchandise trade in 2010, down from 76.3% in 2001. During the same period, Canada's trade with China more than tripled.

Share of exports to United States continues to decline

In 2010, the three main destinations for Canada's merchandise exports were the United States, the United Kingdom and China, unchanged from 2009. Although the value of Canada's exports to all three countries increased over the past decade, the share of exports to the United States fell. During the same period, the other two countries' share tripled, with the United Kingdom increasing from 1.3% to 4.1% while China's rose from 1.1% to 3.3%.

Note to readers

Merchandise trade is one component of Canada's international balance of payments, which also includes trade in services, investment income, current transfers as well as capital and financial flows.

International merchandise trade data on total trade and trade balances are presented on a balance of payment basis while the country data are presented on a customs basis. Balance of payments data are derived from customs data by making adjustments for characteristics such as valuation, coverage, timing and residency. These adjustments are made to conform to the concepts and definitions of the Canadian System of National Accounts.


Revisions to customs based data for the previous year are released with January and February reference months and subsequently on a quarterly basis of the current year. Revisions to balance of payments based data for the three previous years are released annually in June.

Factors influencing revisions include late receipt of import and export documentation, incorrect information on customs forms, replacement of estimates produced for the energy sector with actual figures, changes in classification of merchandise based on more current information, and changes to seasonal adjustment factors.

Revised data are available in the appropriate CANSIM tables.

In 2010, the United States accounted for 74.9% of Canada's exports, down from 87.0% in 2001. Canada's exports to the United States increased 10.5% to $298.5 billion in 2010, reflecting higher exports of automotive products and energy products.

Exports to the United Kingdom rose 35.6%, led by exports of precious metals, which increased 55.9%. This gain was due almost entirely to the strong demand for gold throughout the year. Gold accounted for over one-half of the $16.4 billion worth of merchandise exported to the United Kingdom in 2010.

Share of exports to the United States

Exports to China increased 18.7% to $13.2 billion in 2010, their eighth consecutive annual increase. The top exports to China in 2010 were wood pulp and similar pulp, followed by coal and other bituminous substances.

China is a growing source of imports

As was the case with exports, the share of Canada's imports from the United States declined, from 63.6% in 2001 to 50.4% in 2010. During this period, the share of imports from China advanced steadily from 3.7% to 11.0%.

Share of imports from China

Canada imported $203.2 billion worth of merchandise from the United States in 2010, up 8.8% from 2009. The main imports were motor vehicle parts, passenger autos and trucks.

Canada's imports from Asia accounted for 20.2% of total imports in 2010, up from 13.6% in 2001. Imports from China accounted for over one-half of our imports from Asia.

Imports from China increased 12.1% to $44.5 billion. The top five commodities imported from China in 2010 were electronic computers, telecommunication equipment, games and toys, furniture and fixtures, and outerwear. Electronic computers have been the top import from China over the past decade.

Imports from Mexico rose 33.7% to $22.1 billion in 2010. Mexico's share has experienced almost continuous growth from 3.5% in 2001 to 5.5% in 2010. Imports of telecommunication equipment from Mexico have tripled over the past 10 years and have been the top import from this country since 2008.

Available on CANSIM: tables 228-0003, 228-0043, 228-0049 and 228-0055.

The merchandise imports and exports data in the following tables are presented in dollar values.

Table 228-0003: Customs and balance of payments basis, by major groups and principal trading areas for all countries; annual.

Table 228-0043: Customs and balance of payments basis, by sector and sub-sector, for all countries; annual.

The merchandise imports and exports data in the following tables are indexes (2002=100).

Table 228-0049: Balance of payments and customs-based price and volume indexes for all countries; annual.

Table 228-0055: Price and volume indexes customs and balance of payments basis, by sector and sub-sector, for all countries; annual.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 2201, 2202 and 2203.

These data are available in the Canadian international merchandise trade database.

The publication International Merchandise Trade Annual Review, 2010 (65-208-X, free), is now available online from the Key resource module of our website Publications.

Data on Canadian international merchandise trade for February will be released on April 12.

For further information regarding Canada's international merchandise trade data, contact Statistics Canada's National Contact Centre. To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Mychèle Gagnon (613-951-0994), International Trade Division.