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Survey of Innovation and Business Strategy, 2019

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Released: 2021-07-27

Slight shift from local markets

In 2019, businesses in Canada slightly shifted their focus away from local markets, which refers to the geographical region in which a business has its main Canadian operations. Although a large majority of businesses (77.6%) still identified local markets as their main focus, this proportion was down from 80.6% in 2017. Moreover, 11.4% indicated the 'rest of Canada' as their main market (8.2% in 2017).

The dependency on a local market varied greatly by business size. Approximately four in five small businesses relied on the local market as their main market, compared with just over half of large businesses. Businesses in Canada also relied less on the United States (falling from 8.9% in 2017 to 8.7% in 2019) and on other international markets (falling from 2.4% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2019; see note to readers).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Location of select main markets for businesses in Canada, 2017 and 2019 (in percentage)
Location of select main markets for businesses in Canada, 2017 and 2019 (in percentage)

Growing competition with multinational organizations

The number of competitors within a sector is a potential barrier to entry for businesses. While only a handful of businesses reported that they had zero competitors in their market in 2019, the vast majority indicated strong levels of competition. In fact, nearly one in three businesses reported that they had more than 10 competitors in their main market in 2019 (39.1% in 2017).

The finance and insurance sector (excluding monetary authorities) had the highest rate of competition, with 56.6% of businesses in this sector reporting that they were competing against more than 10 other businesses in the market. This was followed by administrative and support, waste management and remediation services sector (40.6%), and professional, scientific and technical services sector (35.2%).

In 2019, one in two businesses in Canada reported that they competed in their main market against at least one multinational organization, an increase from 43.9% reported in 2017. Organizations that have the economic capacity to operate in more than one country are likely to be larger and possess more resources than other non-multinational organizations. Despite their relatively fewer numbers, the presence of multinational organizations was a competitive factor for 43.6% of small businesses and 77.3% of large businesses.

Sectors engaged in international trade have relatively higher rates of innovation

Sectors with a higher proportion of businesses that engage in international trade, such as manufacturing, professional scientific and technical services, and information and cultural industries, have relatively higher rates of innovation. Trade and innovation are closely intertwined and mutually beneficial. By exporting, businesses can introduce innovative products and services to new customers. Importing allows businesses to acquire resources and technologies that are more affordable, or more advanced, than what may exist in local markets.

In 2019, close to half of Canadian businesses purchased goods or services from abroad, compared with 38.5% in 2017. Imports of goods or services that were used solely for the production of other goods or services were made by 50.8% of these businesses. As well, purchases made to support business activities that help facilitate the core business functions of the enterprise in Canada were identified by 50.8% of businesses, while purchases earmarked to be resold "as is" in Canada were noted by 45.6% of businesses.

From a sectoral perspective, the wholesale trade sector had the highest proportion of businesses that made payments to suppliers outside Canada for goods or services (78.1%). Meanwhile, over three-quarters of businesses in the manufacturing sector imported goods or services, and the vast majority—9 in 10—used their purchases in the production of other goods or services in Canada.

On the export side, 30.6% of businesses were engaged in selling goods and services outside Canada in 2019, a slight increase from 25.0% in 2017. The manufacturing sector had the highest proportion of companies that were engaged in exporting at 65.2%.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Percentage of importing and exporting businesses of goods or services, by select sectors in 2019
Percentage of importing and exporting businesses of goods or services, by select sectors in 2019

Shipping costs and identifying foreign customers among the top barriers to exports

When exporting or attempting to export their goods and services, businesses can encounter obstacles such as administrative barriers, resource limitations, external barriers such as international standards/regulations, and market barriers. Other factors can include trade agreements or disputes, and external geopolitical factors.

In 2019, 2.8% of businesses attempted to export but were unsuccessful. Of those that were successful at exporting their goods or services, 15.7% attempted to expand their international markets but were unsuccessful. As well, 15.2% of exporters attempted to expand the variety of goods or services sold outside Canada but were not successful.

In 2019, 18.7% of businesses indicated that shipping costs were a "difficult" or "very difficult" market-related obstacle to overcome. A similar percentage reported that identifying foreign customers was a significant external barrier. These same two obstacles were as prevalent in 2017.

From a sectoral perspective, approximately one in five businesses in the manufacturing sector that exported or attempted to export goods and services ranked foreign tariffs (22.7%) and trade barriers (18.3%) as being "difficult" or "very difficult." Meanwhile, approximately 3 in 10 businesses in the wholesale trade sector identified shipping costs (29.0%) and foreign tariffs (28.9%) as "difficult" or "very difficult."

Chart 3  Chart 3: Percentage of businesses that ranked selected obstacles as difficult or very difficult, 2019
Percentage of businesses that ranked selected obstacles as difficult or very difficult, 2019

Domestic sales of goods or services

Among businesses that sold goods or services to other businesses operating in Canada, 8.4% (9.5% in 2017) stated that the goods or services were then exported "as is." Similarly, 8.5% (8.0% in 2017) of businesses reported that their goods were used by other Canadian businesses as an intermediary input into a final good to be sold to clients outside Canada.

  Note to readers

The 2019 Survey of Innovation and Business Strategy (SIBS) is a joint initiative of Statistics Canada; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; the Institut de la statistique du Québec; and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

A concordance table that will serve as a link between the published tables and the survey questions from the 2019 SIBS will be released on July 30, 2021.

Because of changes in terminology and content between the 2019 SIBS and previous iterations, caution is recommended in making comparisons at more detailed levels of aggregation.

The proportion of businesses in Canada that identified international markets as their main market was derived by adding the proportion of businesses that selected "Mexico" and "rest of the world" in table 33-10-0303-01. This was done for comparative purposes with the 2017 SIBS.

Users are advised that data for imports (goods and services) and exports (goods and services) in the SIBS are limited to enterprises in select industries under the North American Industry Classification system (NAICS 2017 v2) that have at least 20 employees and a minimum revenue threshold of $250,000. Detailed information covering the entire business sector (all sectors, all employment sizes) are available from other Statistics Canada programs.

For 2019 SIBS, the wording on the questionnaire was changed from "import" to "made payments to suppliers outside Canada for the purchase of goods or services"; and from "export" to "received revenue from clients outside Canada for the sale of goods or services."

Data for the 2015-to-2017 and 2017-to-2019 reference periods are available by sector, according to the North American Industry Classification System; by enterprise size; and by economic region, according to the Standard Geographical Classification.

Data from the 2009 and 2012 SIBS are available in archived tables (Catalogue number12-604-X).


Small businesses: Interchangeable with small enterprises, firms with 20 to 99 employees.

Medium-sized businesses: Interchangeable with medium-sized enterprises, firms with 100 to 249 employees.

Large businesses: Interchangeable with large enterprises, firms with 250 or more employees.

Atlantic region: Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

Rest of Canada: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Main market: The geographical region from which a business derives the highest percentage of total sales revenue.

Support business activities: Ancillary (supporting) activities carried out by the enterprise in order to permit or to facilitate the core business functions of an enterprise, which is the production activity. The outputs are not themselves intended directly for the market or for third parties.


Today, Statistics Canada is launching a new interactive dashboard for the Survey of Innovation and Business Strategy (SIBS). With this tool, data users can explore main results released from this survey for the reference periods of 2015 to 2017 (SIBS 2017) and 2017 to 2019 (SIBS 2019).

Data for SIBS 2019 were released mainly in three waves in 2021: April 26 (innovation), June 9 (structure and business strategies), and July 27 (global value chain).

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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