Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Canadian dollar has depreciated by -1.2% against the US dollar since 2016 and retreated by -1.1% from 2019 to 2020. Canada’s weaker local currency made Canadian exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
Canada’s biggest export products by value in 2020 were crude oil, cars, gold, automotive parts or accessories and sawn wood. In aggregate, those major exports account for over one quarter of the Canada’s overall exports sales. The commodities themselves suggest a modestly diversified range of exported goods.
Canada ranks among world-leading nations for exporting sawn wood, crude oil, cars and gold.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 91.4% of products exported from Canada were bought by importers in: United States (73.5% of the global total), China (4.8%), United Kingdom (3.8%), Japan (2.4%), Germany (1.2%), Mexico (1.2%), Netherlands (1.0%), South Korea (0.9%), France (0.7%), Italy (0.7%), India (0.7%) and Norway (0.5%).
From a continental perspective, 74.6% of Canada’s exports by value were delivered to fellow North American countries while 12.3% were sold to Asian importers. Canada shipped another 10.1% worth of goods to Europe. Smaller percentages went to Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.4%), Africa (1%) then Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand (0.5%).
Given Canada’s population of 38 million people, its total $390.8 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $10,300 for every resident.
Canada’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Canadian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Canada.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$69.1 billion (17.7% of total exports)
- Vehicles: $46.5 billion (11.9%)
- Machinery including computers: $28.9 billion (7.4%)
- Gems, precious metals: $23 billion (5.9%)
- Wood: $13.5 billion (3.4%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $12.4 billion (3.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $11 billion (2.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $9.9 billion (2.5%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $9.7 billion (2.5%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $8.5 billion (2.2%)
Canada’s top 10 exports are worth about three-fifths (59.5%) of the overall value of Canadian global shipments.
Wood was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 15% year over year since 2019. In second place for improving export sales was ores, slag and ash which rose 12.3% led by iron and copper. Canada’s shipments of gems and precious metals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 8% year over year notably due to higher revenues for exported platinum and silver.
The leading decliner among Canada’s top 10 export categories was mineral fuels including oil which fell -29.8%, weighed down by shrinking revenues for petroleum oils and gases.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Canada’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
The following types of Canadian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$49 billion (Down by -24.9% since 2019)
- Wood: $10.7 billion (Up by 21.8%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $7.1 billion (Up by 21.7%)
- Cereals: $6.8 billion (Up by 18.8%)
- Oil seeds: $6.6 billion (Up by 44.3%)
- Gems, precious metals: $5.6 billion (Down by -48.8%)
- Aluminum: $4.6 billion (Up by 6.8%)
- Woodpulp: $4.6 billion (Down by -18.1%)
- Meat: $4.1 billion (Up by 7.5%)
- Fertilizers: $3.7 billion (Down by -8.5%)
Canada has highly positive net exports in the international trade of crude oil, petroleum gas, coal and electricity. The positive cashflows indicate Canada’s strong competitive advantages under the mineral fuels-related category.
Overall Canada incurred a -$6.6 billion trade deficit for 2020, down by -27.8% from the -$9.1 billion in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Canada that are negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Canada’s goods trail Canadian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$32.3 billion (Down by -6.2% since 2019)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$28.6 billion (Down by -6.6%)
- Vehicles: -$9.7 billion (Down by -25.2%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$5.8 billion (Up by 7.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$5.1 billion (Down by -6.4%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$4.4 billion (Down by -17.5%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$4.2 billion (Up by 3.1%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$4 billion (Down by -17.1%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$3.7 billion (Down by -2%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$3.6 billion (Down by -5%)
Canada has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for products including computers spanning myriad types and sizes. Red ink under the machinery including computer category also encompasses bulldozers and similar heavy construction equipment.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Canada’s competitive disadvantages in the international machinery market including computer-related goods, but also represent key opportunities for Canada to improve its position in the global economy through targeted innovations.
Canadian Export Companies
Wikipedia lists many of the larger international trade players from Canada.
- Barrick Gold (diversified metals, mining)
- Bombardier Inc. (aerospace, transit vehicles)
- Cameco (uranium)
- Canadian Natural Resources (oil, gas)
- Encana (oil, gas)
- Magna International (automotive parts)
- Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (specialized chemicals)
- Saputo (dairy products)
- Suncor Energy (oil, gas)
According to global trade intelligence firm Zepol, the following smaller companies are also examples of leading Canadian exporters.
- Interex Forest Products (wood, strand board)
- West Fraser Mills (wood, chemical woodpulp)
- Weyerhaeuser (wood, chemical woodpulp)
Searchable List of Canada’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Canada during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Canada's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|6||Medication mixes in dosage||$7,517,142,000||+2%|
|7||Processed petroleum oils||$7,223,993,000||-40.6%|
|11||Iron ores, concentrates||$5,732,279,000||+15.8%|
|17||Chemical woodpulp (non-dissolving)||$3,458,452,000||-19.1%|
|18||Coal, solid fuels made from coal||$3,384,193,000||-34.8%|
|19||Copper ores, concentrates||$3,230,415,000||+13.9%|
|20||Dried shelled vegetables||$3,193,855,000||+37.9%|
|22||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$3,138,774,000||+1.6%|
|25||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$2,578,218,000||-16.6%|
|28||Particle board, other ligneous materials||$2,004,945,000||+40.6%|
|30||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$1,902,336,000||+3.1%|
|32||Fresh or chilled beef||$1,805,994,000||+2%|
|33||Precious metal waste, scrap||$1,687,012,000||+26.2%|
|36||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$1,611,016,000||+1%|
|37||Phone system devices||$1,594,804,000||-14.3%|
|39||Radioactive chemical elements||$1,479,485,000||+11.8%|
|41||Computers, optical readers||$1,470,224,000||-11.2%|
|42||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,463,580,000||+1.8%|
|43||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$1,441,615,000||+0.9%|
|44||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$1,414,368,000||-15.1%|
|45||Miscellaneous oil cakes||$1,399,863,000||+10.2%|
|47||Rubber tires (new)||$1,371,630,000||-19.7%|
|48||Iron or steel scrap||$1,342,658,000||-2.4%|
|49||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$1,281,877,000||-3.2%|
|50||Wood carpentry, builders' joinery||$1,256,916,000||+2.1%|
|51||Other food preparations||$1,254,618,000||+8.7%|
|52||Other precious metal items||$1,249,614,000||+76.8%|
|54||Uncoated paper for writing/printing||$1,239,597,000||-13.6%|
|55||Liquid pumps and elevators||$1,236,489,000||-16.4%|
|56||Miscellaneous plastic items||$1,168,889,000||+0.3%|
|57||Armored vehicles, tanks||$1,097,741,000||-48.1%|
|58||Other prepared/preserved vegetables (frozen)||$1,069,153,000||-2.3%|
|59||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$1,068,654,000||-17.2%|
|60||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$1,030,345,000||+13.9%|
|62||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$1,007,708,000||-12%|
|64||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$999,395,000||-21%|
|65||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$998,654,000||+16.7%|
|66||Nickel matte, oxide sinters||$979,799,000||-4.6%|
|68||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$962,856,000||-7.2%|
|69||Newsprint (rolls or sheets)||$960,668,000||-31.5%|
|70||Other measuring/testing machines||$953,189,000||-9.9%|
|73||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$915,062,000||-22.1%|
|75||Live bovine cattle||$891,989,000||-8.9%|
|76||Electrical converters/power units||$890,306,000||-9.8%|
|77||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$889,453,000||-3.7%|
|78||Paper containers, cellulose wadding||$866,909,000||-2.2%|
|79||Petroleum oil residues||$862,703,000||-23.4%|
|80||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$852,130,000||+29.2%|
|81||Aircraft launch gear, ground fly trainer||$846,245,000||-20.3%|
|82||Miscellaneous fresh/chilled vegetables||$828,660,000||+12.4%|
|83||Base metal mountings, fittings||$822,785,000||-19.3%|
|84||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$797,216,000||-24%|
|86||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$781,906,000||-15.7%|
|88||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$776,342,000||-12.1%|
|89||Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products||$766,587,000||-15.2%|
|92||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$743,284,000||-17.9%|
|93||Piston engine parts||$710,531,000||-30.2%|
|95||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$709,139,000||+1.4%|
|96||Miscellaneous iron or steel tubes, pipes||$700,202,000||+7.1%|
|98||Sanitary towels, baby napkins/liners||$683,233,000||+2.9%|
|99||Whole fish (fresh)||$675,624,000||-11.5%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$285.8 billion or 73.1% by value for all products exported from Canada during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Canada’s total exported goods represent 21.6% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($1.809 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 21.6% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 23.5% one year earlier. This seems to indicate a decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Canada’s total economic performance, albeit based on a limited timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Canada’s unemployment rate was 9.4% for 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund, approaching double the average 5.825% in 2019.
See also Canada’s Top 10 Imports, Canada’s Top Trading Partners, Top Canadian Trade Balances and Canada’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
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Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 28, 2021
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Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on April 28, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on April 28, 2021