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International Trade

International trade is the buying and selling of goods and services between members of different countries. This exchange has been a key part of the Canadian economy since the first settlers came. Canadian settlers depended on exports of resources such as timber and grain (see Timber Trade History; Wheat). In the 20th century, Canada’s exports shifted to services, manufactured goods and commodities such as oil and metals.

Since the 1980s, Canada has signed free trade agreements with dozens of countries to increase global trade and investment.

Canada’s three biggest trading partners are the United States, the European Union and China. The United States is Canada largest trading partner by far. However, trade with China grew quickly in the 2010s, and this trend will likely continue.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Oil and Gas Policy in Canada, 1947–80

Federal and provincial governments have regulated, taxed and controlled the development of Canada’s oil industry for much of its history. Governments have been particularly active in these capacities since it became clear, in the late 1940s, that Canada could become an exporting nation. From the early 1960s to the early 1970s, the federal government increased its role in an effort to help develop the oil industry. From 1973 until the early 1980s, the federal government also worked to end Canada’s dependence on foreign oil.

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Exports from Canada

Exports are goods or services that residents of one country sell to residents of another country. Since its earliest days, Canada’s economic prosperity has relied on exports to larger markets; first through its colonial ties to Britain and later due to its geographic proximity to the United States. Billions of dollars of goods and services cross Canada’s border each year. (See International Trade.) Exports make up about a third of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, Canadians exported $729 billion worth of goods and services. Almost 75 per cent of Canada’s total exports go to the United States. (See Canada-US Economic Relations.) Other major markets include the European Union, China and Japan.

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Imports to Canada

In international trade, imports refer to goods and services purchased by Canadian residents from residents of other countries. Billions of dollars of goods and services cross Canada’s border each year. In 2019, Canadians imported a total of $768 billion worth of goods and services. Canada’s largest source of imports by far is the United States. (See Canada-US Economic Relations.) The European Union, China and Mexico are also major sources of imported goods and services.