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Canadian international merchandise trade, August 2018

Released: 2018-10-05

In August, Canada's merchandise trade balance with the world was in a surplus position for the first time since December 2016. The $526 million surplus followed a $189 million deficit in July. Both imports and exports declined in August. Imports fell 2.5%, mainly on lower imports from non-US countries, while exports were down 1.1%, mostly on decreased exports of passenger cars and light trucks.

In real (or volume) terms, imports declined 1.5% and exports fell 0.7%.

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

Aircraft imports fall for a third consecutive month

Total imports declined 2.5% to $50.0 billion in August, with decreases in 7 of 11 product sections. Aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts, consumer goods, and motor vehicles and parts were mostly responsible for the decrease. Year over year, total imports were up 7.3%.

Imports of aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts were down 27.8% to $1.3 billion, the third consecutive monthly decrease. Since the record posted in May, imports of these products have fallen by almost half. In August, there were no imports of commercial airliners, leading to the lowest level of aircraft imports since November 2016. Imports of aircraft engines and parts (-16.9%) also decreased in August, however, the 2018 year-to-date value represents the highest on record.

Imports of consumer goods decreased 3.7% to $10.5 billion in August. Widespread decreases throughout the product groups were led by pharmaceutical and medicinal products (-5.0%), miscellaneous goods and supplies (-3.5%) and furniture and fixtures (-9.5%).

Also contributing to the overall decrease were lower imports of motor vehicles and parts, down 3.8% to $9.0 billion. This marks the fifth consecutive monthly decline, with imports falling 12.2% since the peak in March. Motor vehicle engines and parts (-9.6%) drove the decrease, as atypical planned shutdowns in the automotive manufacturing sector in August contributed to lower imports of auto parts.

Motor vehicles and parts lead the decrease in exports

Exports decreased 1.1% to $50.5 billion in August, despite gains in 6 of 11 product sections. Lower exports of motor vehicles and parts and of metal and non-metallic mineral products were partially offset by higher exports of metal ores and non-metallic minerals. Exports excluding energy products decreased 1.5%. Year over year, total exports were up 15.5%.

Following a 7.9% increase from May to July, exports of motor vehicles and parts fell 6.2% in August to $7.4 billion. Exports of passenger cars and light trucks (-8.9%) were mainly responsible for the decline. As with imports of engines and parts, this decrease coincided with atypical shutdowns in the automotive industry. Year over year, exports of passenger cars and light trucks were down 5.7%.

Exports of metal and non-metallic mineral products fell 6.2% to $5.4 billion in August, the third consecutive monthly decrease. Exports of unwrought precious metals and precious metal alloys (-14.3%) led the decrease for the section. Contributing the most to the decline were lower exports of unwrought gold to the United Kingdom. For the section as a whole, volumes fell 3.8%, while prices were down 2.5%.

These decreases were partially offset by a 20.1% increase in exports of metal ores and non-metallic minerals. After posting a strong decrease in July, exports of copper ores and concentrates (+$187 million) drove the increase in August, mostly on higher shipments to Japan, South Korea and India.

Lower imports from non-US countries contribute to the overall trade surplus

Imports from countries other than the United States fell 4.5% to $17.6 billion in August, the third consecutive monthly decline. Many countries contributed to the decrease, including China (various products), Brazil (bauxite), Belgium (pharmaceutical and medicinal products), Algeria (crude oil) and the Netherlands (motor gasoline). These declines were partially offset by higher imports from Switzerland (copper).

Exports to countries other than the United States were down 0.9% to $12.8 billion. Lower exports to the United Kingdom were behind the decline, principally on decreased exports of unwrought gold and crude oil. Gains in exports to India (copper ores and potash) and South Korea (copper ores) partially offset the decline.

Consequently, Canada's trade deficit with countries other than the United States narrowed from $5.5 billion in July to $4.8 billion, contributing to the movement of the overall trade balance from a deficit to a surplus in August.

Imports from the United States decreased 1.3% to $32.4 billion, mostly on lower imports of aircraft. Exports to the United States declined 1.2% to $37.7 billion, mainly on lower exports of passenger cars and light trucks. Consequently, Canada's trade surplus with the United States in August was essentially unchanged at $5.3 billion. The trade surpluses in July and August were the largest since October 2008.

Exports and imports of products subject to customs tariffs

August marked the third month in which tariffs were applied to exports of steel and aluminum products to the United States, and the second month in which tariffs were imposed on imports of steel, aluminum and other miscellaneous products from the United States.

On a customs seasonally adjusted basis, exports of steel products to the United States that were subject to a 25% tariff rose 6.3% in August, the second consecutive monthly increase. Despite this gain, export levels for these products were down 21.4% in August compared with May, when these steel products were still exempt from tariffs.

Aluminum exports subject to a 10% customs tariff fell 13.2% in August, a third consecutive decline. Prices of the product group unwrought, basic and semi-finished aluminum and aluminum-alloy products, which is comprised mostly of tariffed aluminum, also posted three consecutive monthly decreases since the imposition of US tariffs.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Exports of products subject to US tariffs
Exports of products subject to US tariffs

Imports of steel products from the United States subject to a 25% tariff fell 12.8% in August, on a customs seasonally adjusted basis. This follows a 38.2% decrease in July and a 32.4% increase in June. Year over year, imports of these products were down 29.0% in August.

Aluminum product imports subject to a 10% tariff were up 2.6% in August. Year over year, aluminum imports were up 13.9%.

After falling 21.7% in July, imports of other miscellaneous products subject to a 10% customs tariff saw little change in August. The July and August levels were the lowest since 2014.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Imports of US products subject to tariffs
Imports of US products subject to tariffs

Revisions to July exports and imports

Revisions reflect initial estimates being updated with or replaced by administrative and survey data as they become available, as well as amendments made for late documentation of high-value transactions. Exports in July, originally reported as $51.3 billion in last month's release, were revised to $51.1 billion in the current month's release. July imports, originally reported as $51.4 billion in last month's release, were revised to $51.3 billion.

Chart 4  Chart 4: 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 the User Guide: Canadian System of Macroeconomic Accounts (Catalogue number13-606-G).

Data in this release are on a BOP basis and are seasonally adjusted. Unless otherwise stated, values are expressed in nominal terms, or current dollars. References to prices are based on aggregate Paasche (current-weighted) price indexes (2007=100). Volumes, or constant dollars, are calculated using the Laspeyres 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 tables.

New version of the North American Product Classification System

Statistics Canada is updating the North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) Canada for merchandise import and export statistics. The NAPCS 2017 version will replace the NAPCS 2007 version, which is currently in use.

Revised data based on NAPCS 2017 for the reference period of January 1988 to December 2014 will be disseminated on November 21, 2018.

The first regular release based on NAPCS 2017 will occur on December 6, 2018, and will include data covering the reference period from January 2015 to October 2018.

For more information, please see NAPCS 2017 and Variant of NAPCS Canada 2017 Version 1.0 - Merchandise import and export accounts.

Real-time data table

Real-time table 12-10-0089-01 will be updated on October 22.

Next release

Data on Canadian international merchandise trade for September will be released on November 2.


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

The updated Canada and the World Statistics Hub (Catalogue number13-609-X) is available online. This product illustrates the nature and extent of Canada's economic and financial relationship with the world using interactive graphs and tables. This product provides easy access to information on trade, investment, employment and travel between Canada and a number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, China, Japan, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

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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