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Monthly trade in goods by exporter characteristics, May 2020

Released: 2020-07-23

Number of exporting enterprises (monthly)


May 2020

21.2% decrease

(annual change)

There were 17,576 goods-exporting enterprises in May 2020, a decline of 21.2% from May 2019. This marked the fifth consecutive monthly year-over-year decrease in the number of exporters. However, exporters of all employment sizes recovered slightly in May, following record low levels in April.

Many non-essential businesses that had been closed since March began to gradually reopen in May, while adjusting to adhere to new guidelines and safety protocols. Among all exporters, enterprises with fewer than 50 employees were impacted the most by economic disruptions in recent months. In May, some of these businesses partially resumed their activities.

At the establishment level, the decrease in the number of exporters compared with the same month in 2019 was widespread across all provinces and territories, led by Ontario (-2,283), Quebec (-1,184) and British Columbia (-687). Together, these three provinces accounted for nearly four-fifths (79.0%) of the decline nationwide.

The decline in the overall number of exporting establishments was led by the manufacturing sector (-1,676 firms), followed by wholesale trade (-1,335) and retail trade (-553). However, as exporters in some sectors resumed their activities, the year-over-year decrease in May was not as severe as that observed in April.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Number of exporting enterprises by employment size, January to May, 2019 and 2020
Number of exporting enterprises by employment size, January to May, 2019 and 2020

Some destination countries show signs of recovery

On a year-over-year basis, the decline in the number of enterprises exporting to the United States (-3,833) continued in May, as COVID-19 cases soared in Canada's largest trading partner. However, the decrease slowed in May (-20.9%), compared with the drop (-24.4%) in April.

Although the spread of COVID-19 showed signs of slowing in Europe, the number of enterprises exporting to the United Kingdom (-413), France (-290) and Germany (-262) declined year over year.

At the same time, the decline in the number of enterprises exporting to Asia in May was led by China (-263), India (-240) and Japan (-187). Combined, the number of enterprises that exported to these countries decreased by nearly 700. Even though the number of enterprises exporting to China was lower each month from January to May 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, the decline has slowed since March.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Number of enterprises exporting to China, January to May, 2019 and 2020
Number of enterprises exporting to China, January to May, 2019 and 2020

  Note to readers


The monthly trade in goods by exporter characteristics release is a special product that is being published specifically to provide Canadians with timely information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian exporters.

Data are available from January 2019 to May 2020 on a customs basis and are not seasonally adjusted. Despite these limitations, the dataset is useful for tracking recent and general monthly trends for exporting businesses in Canada as international trade activity enters a period of turbulence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current analysis focuses on comparing trends in the number of exporters and their profile over that period.

Data on monthly exports for reference year 2019 are derived from the annual production database, while data for January to May 2020 are newly developed based on a similar linkage methodology used for the annual Trade by Exporter Characteristics – Goods (TEC–Goods) program. Prior to January 2020, data on exports to non-US destinations were collected by Statistics Canada. In January 2020, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) began collecting non-US export data and transmitting them to Statistics Canada on a daily basis. Exporters are gradually being transitioned to the CBSA collection system, and collection by Statistics Canada is due to be phased out completely later in 2020. Data collection remains unchanged for exports to the United States; the US Census Bureau collects and transmits the data to Statistics Canada each month under the terms of the Canada–US data exchange. Overall, a very similar linkage methodology is applied to this 17-month monthly time series as to the annual data, ensuring that consistency between monthly and annual data is maintained.

For each month from January 2019 to May 2020, the total number of identified exporters accounted for 99% of the total domestic export value. The number of exporters corresponds to the number of exporters identified in the Business Register (2020). The total value of exports refers to all transactions that can be linked from the monthly domestic exports (customs basis) database.

In this release, data disseminated at the provincial level are conceptually different from customs-based merchandise export data. Provincial data for the TEC–Goods program are based on the province where the exporters are located. Goods can be shipped to other provinces for final consumption or can be shipped from other provinces when leaving Canada. Customs-based merchandise exports are based on the province of origin, which is the province in which the goods are grown, produced, extracted or manufactured. Monthly domestic export (customs basis) data can be obtained from Canadian International Merchandise Trade (Customs Basis).

Data availability

Data on monthly trade in goods by exporter characteristics are available upon request.

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 Angela Yuan-Wu (613-240-2871; or Andrew Yun (343-550-5869;, International Accounts and Trade Division.

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