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Canadian international merchandise trade, March 2017

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Released: 2017-05-04

Canada's merchandise trade balance with the world posted a $135 million deficit in March, narrowing from a $1.1 billion deficit in February. Exports rose 3.8% in March to a record high $47.0 billion, due to stronger exports of energy products and consumer goods. Imports were up 1.7% to $47.1 billion, mainly on higher imports of unwrought gold.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Merchandise exports and imports
Merchandise exports and imports

Record exports led by higher energy products

Exports rose 3.8% to a record high $47.0 billion in March, with increases in 8 of 11 sections, following a 2.5% decline in February. Volumes were up 2.5% in March and prices increased 1.3%. Energy products, consumer goods, and metal and non-metallic mineral products were responsible for the increase in exports in March. Exports excluding energy products rose 3.1%. Year over year, total exports increased 12.9%.

Exports of energy products were up 7.0% to $8.7 billion in March on higher volumes. Natural gas exports (+31.6%) led the increase, which is attributable to unusually low temperatures in the northeastern United States in March. Additionally, other energy products rose 64.2%, mainly on higher exports of coal to Japan, China and South Korea. This increase coincided with a slowdown in coal production in Australia caused by Cyclone Debbie, which struck the Australian coast in February.

Exports of consumer goods also contributed to the overall increase in March, rising 6.8% to $6.1 billion. Exports of other food products led the increase, up 11.9% to a record high $1.4 billion, on increased exports of yellow peas and red lentils to India. Exports of miscellaneous goods and supplies also contributed to the increase (+21.2%), mainly on higher exports of gold coins.

Metal and non-metallic mineral products were up 7.1% to $5.6 billion in March, following a 7.4% increase in February. Unwrought precious metals and precious metal alloys led the increase (+14.1%) in March, mainly on higher exports of unwrought gold to China. For the section as a whole, prices were up 4.2% and volumes increased 2.8%.

Increase in imports of unwrought gold

Total imports were up for the fourth consecutive month, increasing 1.7% to $47.1 billion in March, with gains in 7 of 11 sections. Prices rose 1.9% while volumes edged down 0.2%. Higher imports of metal and non-metallic mineral products, industrial machinery, equipment and parts, and motor vehicles and parts were the main contributors to the increase. Year over year, imports were up 5.6%.

In March, imports of metal and non-metallic mineral products increased 10.4% to $4.0 billion, returning to December levels. Unwrought precious metals and precious metal alloys contributed most to the gain, rising 61.1% to $856 million. Higher imports of unwrought gold from Japan led the increase. For the section as a whole, volumes were up 5.1% and prices rose 5.0%.

Imports of industrial machinery, equipment and parts increased 4.1% to $4.4 billion in March, the highest level since September 2016. Most commodity groupings in the section posted gains.

Imports of motor vehicles and parts reached a record high $9.3 billion in March, up 1.5%. Motor vehicle engines and motor vehicle parts, as well as passenger cars and light trucks led the increase. Strong truck sales in March, which are expected to continue in April, drove the increase in imports of passenger cars and light trucks.

A record high in exports to non-U.S. countries

In March, exports to countries other than the United States rose 15.3% to a record high $12.6 billion. Higher exports to China (gold and coal), India (legumes) and South Korea (coal and copper) were responsible for the gain in March.

Imports from countries other than the United States were up 1.2% to $16.7 billion in March, on higher imports from Saudi Arabia (crude oil) and the United Kingdom. As a result, the trade deficit with countries other than the United States narrowed from $5.6 billion in February to $4.1 billion in March.

Imports from the United States increased 2.0% to $30.4 billion in March, while exports to the United States edged up 0.1% to $34.4 billion. As a result, Canada's trade surplus with the United States narrowed from $4.5 billion in February to $4.0 billion in March. The Canadian dollar fell 1.6 cents US relative to the American dollar in March.

Trade reaches a record high in the first quarter

On a quarterly basis, imports rose 2.6% in the first quarter compared with the previous quarter, reaching a record high $139.7 billion. Increases were observed in imports of motor vehicles and parts, energy products, and aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts.

In the first quarter, exports increased 1.7%, also reaching a record high of $138.6 billion primarily on higher exports of energy products.

As a result, Canada's merchandise trade balance with the world changed from virtually nil in the previous quarter to a deficit of $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2017.

Real trade balance in surplus in March

In real (or volume) terms, exports were up 2.5% and imports edged down 0.2% in March. Canada's real trade balance therefore went from a deficit of $324 million in February to a surplus of $765 million in March.

After falling 4.1% in the last quarter of 2016, real imports increased 3.6% in the first quarter of 2017. Given that exports were relatively stable, Canada's real trade surplus narrowed from $5.6 billion in the previous quarter to $1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2017.

Minor revisions for February

Export and import data for February remained virtually unchanged in the March release.

Telling Canada's story in numbers; #ByTheNumbers

In celebration of the country's 150th birthday, Statistics Canada is presenting snapshots from our rich statistical history.

Impact of the Great Depression on Canadian trade

After posting trade surpluses from 1922 to 1929, Canada had a trade deficit in 1930 and in 1931 following the stock market crash of 1929. Exports decreased 20% from $1.4 billion in 1929 to $1.1 billion in 1930. This downward trend continued until 1933 when exports fell to $535 million, but then partially recovered to $970 million by 1939, and Canada's trade returned to a surplus.

Among provinces, Ontario experienced the largest decline in exports during this period, falling from $570 million in 1929 to $184 million in 1939.

The United States passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930, raising tariffs on Canadian exports. Canada followed suit by imposing high tariff rates on imports from the United States. Canadian exports to the United States dropped from $521 million in 1929 to $387 million in 1939, while imports from the United States fell from $847 million in 1929 to $413 million in 1939.

Chart 2  Chart 2: International merchandise trade balance
International merchandise trade balance

  Note to readers

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

International trade data by commodity are available on both a BOP and a customs basis. International trade data by country are available on a customs basis for all countries and on a BOP basis for Canada's 27 principal trading partners (PTPs). The list of PTPs is based on their annual share of total merchandise trade—imports and exports—with Canada in 2012. BOP data are derived from customs data by making adjustments for factors 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.

For a conceptual analysis of BOP versus customs-based data, see "Balance of Payments trade in goods at Statistics Canada: Expanding geographic detail to 27 principal trading partners."

For more information on these and other macroeconomic concepts, see the Methodological Guide: Canadian System of Macroeconomic Accounts (Catalogue number13-607-X) and User Guide: Canadian System of Macroeconomic Accounts (Catalogue number13-606-G).

Data in this release are on a BOP basis, seasonally adjusted and in current dollars. Constant dollars are calculated using the Laspeyres volume formula (2007=100).

For information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.


In general, merchandise trade data are revised on an ongoing basis for each month of the current year. Current-year revisions are reflected in both the customs and BOP-based data.

The previous year's customs data are revised with the release of the January and February reference months and then on a quarterly basis. The previous two years of customs-based data are revised annually and revisions are released in February with the December reference month.

The previous year's BOP-based data are revised with the release of the January, February, March and April reference months. To remain consistent with the Canadian System of Macroeconomic Accounts, revisions to BOP-based data for previous years are released annually in December with the October reference month.

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

For information on data revisions for crude oil and natural gas, see "Revisions to trade data for crude oil and natural gas."

Revised data are available in the appropriate CANSIM tables.

Real-time CANSIM tables

Real-time CANSIM table 228-8059 will be updated on May 15. For more information, consult the document Real-time CANSIM tables.

Next release

Data on Canadian international merchandise trade for April will be released on June 2.


Customs based data are now available in the Canadian International Merchandise Trade Database (Catalogue number65F0013X).

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Benoît Carrière (613-415-5305;, International Accounts and Trade Division.

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