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Canadian merchandise import transaction counts, May 2020

Released: 2020-06-09

Statistics Canada is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing Canadians with relevant tools and statistics, including more timely measures of key social and economic phenomena where possible.

International merchandise trade statistics are among the most timely economic indicators at Statistics Canada, with monthly data released on average 35 days after the close of the reference month, in coordination with the United States Census Bureau's release of US international merchandise trade data.

To help Canadians recognize when important changes in merchandise trade activity may be occurring closer to real time, Statistics Canada is now publishing monthly counts of import transactions. Importers must submit a B3 Canada Customs Coding Form to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) after importing goods into Canada, and each form can contain multiple commodity lines. In this article, the transaction count refers to the total number of commodity lines recorded in all B3 documents submitted to the CBSA within a given month. Information from these documents is also used to produce Canadian merchandise import statistics.

What import transaction counts can tell us about international trade

Monthly import values (and also export values) generally tend to move in the same direction as the import transaction counts. As a result, the count of import transactions could serve as a useful indicator for the level of Canadian international trade activity. When the transaction count movements are strong compared with typical movements for a given month, this may indicate that important changes in import and export values are also occurring.

Import transaction counts have been tabulated back to January 2018. The general relationship between the counts and published indicators for international trade (not seasonally adjusted) prior to April 2020 is depicted in Chart 1.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Growth rates for import transaction counts, import values and export values (not seasonally adjusted)
Growth rates for import transaction counts, import values and export values (not seasonally adjusted)

Partial rebound in number of transactions in May

In April 2020, import transaction counts declined drastically compared with March, and were down 26.9% from April 2019. This came as significant measures were in place across Canada and throughout the world to contain the spread of COVID-19. In April, unadjusted import and export values were also significantly lower than in the same month in 2019 (-30.1% and -35.5%, respectively).

In May 2020, physical distancing restrictions began to be relaxed within Canada and in much of the world, leading to increased activity in some sectors of the economy. The import transaction count rose 14.8% in May compared with April, but was still 17.5% lower than in May 2019.

While this result suggests that an increase in merchandise trade values is likely in May, these values are expected to remain well below pre-April levels. Merchandise trade values for the reference month of May will be published on July 2.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Import transaction count by month (not seasonally adjusted)
Import transaction count by month (not seasonally adjusted)

Considerations and limitations

Transaction counts are not seasonally adjusted, and can vary from month to month based on seasonal norms and trading day effects. Looking at year-over-year changes can provide a better sense of whether the movements for a given period are atypical in nature.

There are several factors that limit the ability to predict with precision the movements in international trade values based on movements in import transaction counts.

The transaction counts represent the number of commodity lines processed by the CBSA within a given calendar month. Based on CBSA final accounting deadlines, many of the transactions processed in a given month actually occurred in the previous month and will be allocated to the month in which the transaction occurred within international trade statistics. A portion of the counts will also reflect late reported transactions, and amendments to transactions that were submitted in earlier months. Therefore, the transaction counts reported by month will not be completely aligned with the trade values that are ultimately produced for that month.

Transaction counts include all commodity line items transmitted to Statistics Canada on a monthly basis. In the compilation of trade statistics, some items are removed because they do not conform to international standards for merchandise trade. Examples include transactions representing short-term leases or warranty repairs.

The link between line counts and trade values in a given month can also be influenced by factors such as the product mix, the size of the shipment, the mode of transport used and the level of aggregation in the reported data.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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