International trade

Canada's international merchandise trade—exports and imports combined—increased for the second consecutive year in 2011, following a steep decline in 2009. This increase brought Canada's total trade to within 2.0% of the record high levels posted in 2008, prior to the recession.

On a balance of payments basis, Canada's exports reached $458.2 billion in 2011, up 13.2% from 2010. Gains were concentrated in the latter half of the year. Prices rose by 8.7% while volumes increased by 4.1%. Merchandise imports increased 10.2% to $455.9 billion, mainly on the strength of volumes.

Energy products led export gains

Exports increased in six of seven sectors, bringing levels back in line with those recorded in the years prior to 2009. Exports of energy products and industrial goods and materials accounted for over three-quarters of the growth in 2011. They comprised nearly half of Canada's exports.

Energy products reached $112.1 billion, up 23.4% from 2010 levels. Crude petroleum represented the bulk of the increase, with exports totalling $68.3 billion, up 36.3% from 2010. The export growth resulted largely from a 20.3% increase in prices.

Natural gas exports fell for the third consecutive year. Levels in 2011 were less than half of those recorded in 2008.

Exports of industrial goods and materials increased 21.2% to $116.9 billion in 2011. Prices rose 14.3%, outpacing an increase in volumes. Precious metals and alloys, which led widespread gains throughout the sector, increased by $6.3 billion to $20.3 billion in 2011. Precious metals and alloys exports more than doubled since 2009, the result of higher prices and strong demand for gold and silver.

Machinery and equipment exports rose for the first time in four years in 2011, 5.9% to $80.6 billion. Widespread gains were driven by an increase in volumes. In terms of value, industrial and agricultural machinery accounted for just under half of the sector's increase.

Agricultural and fishing products exports increased to $41.0 billion in 2011. Canola exports, which gained 35.2%, posted a record year, led by an increase in prices of nearly 25%.

Exports of automotive products rose to $59.3 billion in 2011, up 4.4% from $56.8 billion in 2010. This was the first time since 2005 that exports of trucks and other motor vehicles increased and reflected higher demand for commercial-use vehicles.

Forestry exports totalled $22.4 billion in 2011, up 2.4% from the year before. The only sub-sector to record a decline was newsprint and other paper and paperboard.

Imports increased in six of seven sectors

Import volumes rose 8.3% and prices rose 4.4%. Energy products imports led sectoral gains, increasing by 28.3% to $52.0 billion in 2011. Growth resulted largely from a 19.5% increase in prices. Crude petroleum imports increased 16.6% to $27.8 billion in 2011, largely the result of a 29.9% price increase. Petroleum and coal products, specifically fuel oil, gasoline and pipeline diluents, led the overall increase.

Industrial goods and materials imports reached a record high of $98.0 billion in 2011, a 12.8% increase from 2010. Both prices and volumes increased. As was the case with exports, higher prices for gold and silver directly influenced the level of imports.

Machinery and equipment, the largest import sector, accounted for more than one-quarter (27%) of total imports in 2011. Imports in this sector increased by 9.5% to $124.7 billion in 2011 on the strength of a 14.5% increase in volumes. Widespread gains were led by imports of industrial and agricultural machinery, as well as other machinery and equipment.

Agricultural and fishing products imports reached a record high of $32.6 billion in 2011, a 10.3% increase from 2010. Gains were widespread, as volumes increased by 7.9%.

Increased volumes of trucks and other motor vehicles pushed import levels of automotive products up 3.7% to $71.3 billion in 2011. Imports of automotive products, namely passenger autos, were adversely affected by decreased imports from Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 

Imports of other consumer goods rose 3.2% to a record high of $59.6 billion in 2011. The only sector to experience a fall from 2010 levels was forestry products, where the value declined 4.9% to $2.5 billion.

Chart 20.1 Merchandise exports and imports, 2011
View data source for chart 20.1

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