The Daily
 In the news  Indicators  Releases by subject
 Special interest  Release schedule  Information

Canadian international merchandise trade, May 2017

Released: 2017-07-06

Canada's merchandise trade deficit with the world reached $1.1 billion in May, up from a $552 million deficit in April. Imports rose 2.4% to $49.8 billion, led by an increase in aircraft imports. Exports were up 1.3% to $48.7 billion on account of higher unwrought gold exports.

Canada's trade activity has been strong in recent months, with imports and exports both reaching record highs, resulting in a total trade value of $98.5 billion in May. This represents a 13.8% increase over the same month last year.

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

Imports rise for a sixth consecutive month

Total imports rose 2.4% in May to $49.8 billion, a sixth consecutive monthly increase. Volumes rose 1.8% while prices increased 0.6%. Higher imports of aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts, motor vehicles and parts, and energy products were responsible for the increase. Year over year, total imports were up 10.2%.

Imports of aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts (+45.9%) led the increase, primarily due to aircraft imports, which rose $527 million to $636 million in May. The import of five new airliners in May contributed the most to the growth.

Imports of motor vehicles and parts rose for a fifth consecutive month, up 3.7% to a record high $9.8 billion. Imports of motor vehicle engines and motor vehicle parts rose 4.4%, coinciding with stronger production and higher exports of motor vehicles in May. Following a 3.1% decline in April, imports of passenger cars and light trucks (+3.4%) rebounded in May.

Imports of energy products (+6.5% to $2.8 billion) also contributed to the overall gain in May. Refined petroleum energy products led the increase (+16.4%), as planned maintenance work at Canadian refineries resulted in increased demand for foreign refined petroleum products in May. Overall, volumes rose 18.8% while prices fell 10.4%.

Record exports led by unwrought gold

Total exports rose 1.3% to a record high $48.7 billion in May, a third consecutive monthly gain, on account of higher volumes. Metal and non-metallic mineral products and motor vehicles and parts were the largest contributors to the increase. Exports excluding energy products rose 3.6% in May. Year over year, total exports were up 17.8%.

Exports of metal and non-metallic mineral products increased 11.1% to a record high $6.2 billion in May. Unwrought precious metals and precious metal alloys (+$731 million) were responsible for the increase, mainly on stronger exports of unwrought gold to the United Kingdom. Most of these shipments were transfers of assets within the banking sector.

Exports of motor vehicles and parts rose 3.6% to $8.5 billion in May. Passenger cars and light trucks posted the largest increase, up 3.0% to $5.8 billion. This gain coincided with a fourth consecutive monthly increase in imports of motor vehicle engines and motor vehicle parts, and followed some downtime at assembly plants in April.

Exports of energy products fell 9.0% to $8.0 billion, largely offsetting the increases in May. Lower exports of crude oil and crude bitumen (-15.2%) were behind this decrease. This was an atypical decline for crude oil in May, a month that usually sees increases with the start of summer. Overall, prices decreased 8.2% and volumes fell 0.9%.

Record imports from the United States

Imports from the United States rose 3.6% to a record high $32.7 billion in May, on higher imports of aircraft and motor vehicles. Exports to the United States edged down 0.3% to $36.3 billion. As a result, Canada's trade surplus with the United States narrowed from $4.8 billion in April to $3.5 billion in May. The Canadian dollar fell 0.9 cents US relative to the American dollar from April to May.

Exports to countries other than the United States were up 6.2%, mainly on higher exports of unwrought gold to the United Kingdom. Imports from countries other than the United States edged up 0.2%, as higher imports from Saudi Arabia (crude oil), China and Belgium were largely offset by lower imports from Germany (passenger cars).

As a result, Canada's trade deficit with countries other than the United States narrowed from $5.3 billion in April to $4.6 billion in May.

Real trade surplus narrows in May

In real (or volume) terms, imports were up 1.8% and exports rose 1.1% in May. Consequently, Canada's trade surplus in real terms narrowed from $814 million in April to $561 million in May.

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

Revisions to April export and import data

Revisions reflected initial estimates being updated with or replaced by administrative and survey data as they became available, as well as amendments made for late documentation of high-value transactions. Exports in April, originally reported as $47.7 billion in last month's release, were revised to $48.1 billion in the current month's release. Imports, originally reported as $48.1 billion in last month's release, were revised to $48.6 billion.

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 Second World War on Canadian trade

After declaring war on Germany in 1939, Canada saw its trade activity rapidly grow throughout the Second World War. From 1939 to 1945, exports nearly quadrupled while imports more than doubled. Canada's war effort in the Second World War included a military contribution, as well as playing a pivotal role in the production of war material and providing food for Allied countries.

During this time, there was a surge in exports of three main commodity groups. Exports of iron and its products—which included commodities such as iron ore, machinery, automobiles, guns, and other firearms—rose almost ninefold from 1939 to 1945. Exports of miscellaneous commodities—comprised of ships, aircraft and other vehicles, army and navy stores, and cartridges—were 25 times greater in 1945 than in 1939. Agricultural and vegetable products exports—which included commodities such as canned fruits and vegetables, flour, wheat, and alcoholic beverages—almost quadrupled over this period.

Canada's trade activity fell slightly as the war ended in 1945, but remained strong through the rest of the decade, partially fuelled by the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Europe.

  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 July 17. For more information, consult the document Real-time CANSIM tables.

New CANSIM table

Since June 19, 2017, Statistics Canada is releasing a new CANSIM table featuring Canada's international merchandise imports and exports with the United States. CANSIM table 228-0080 includes monthly merchandise trade values by U.S. state and Canadian province at the Harmonized System section level dating back to January 1990.

Next release

Data on Canadian international merchandise trade for June will be released on August 4.


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.

Date modified: