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Canada’s trade surplus for goods grew to a 13-year high of $3.1-billion in November, with a rise in exports to the United States offsetting disruptions to international shipping caused by the floods in British Columbia.

The flooding and landslides, which severed rail links to the Lower Mainland and caused backlogs at ports in Vancouver, took a bite out of Canada’s overseas trade. Goods exported to countries other than the U.S. fell 4 per cent in November, and exports from B.C. dropped 7.8 per cent, Statistics Canada reported Thursday.

However, this was more than offset by exports to the U.S., which rose 6.4 per cent in November to a record-high $45.2-billion. Imports from the U.S. were up 4.9 per cent to $35.4-billion, also a record.

The jump in U.S.-Canada trade was led by “atypical” shipments of pharmaceutical products, mostly related to COVID-19.

“In November, large shipments of COVID-19 medication came into Canada for packaging and labelling. Most of the medication was subsequently exported during the same month, resulting in a boost to both export and import statistics,” Statscan said.

Energy exports remained strong, rising 2.8 per cent in November, the seventh consecutive monthly increase. Crude oil and refined petroleum product exports were up; however, shipments of coal fell sharply because of the problems at B.C. ports, while natural gas exports were down because of lower prices.

Overall, exports rose 3.8 per cent in November, increasing in eight of 11 categories tracked by Statscan. This was led more by an increase in export volumes (up 3.5 per cent) than an increase in prices. Meanwhile, imports rose 2.4 per cent, increasing in six categories.

“While the gain in exports was less impressive than it looks at first glance thanks to the shipments of Covid-related medication, excluding that area still showed a solid advance that adds further evidence to the notion that a rebound in manufacturing was a big support to growth in Q4,” Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce economist Andrew Grantham wrote in a note to clients.

“However, even if that momentum has continued into the start of 2022, it is unlikely to be enough to offset the drag to overall economic growth from renewed service sector restrictions,” he added, referring to public-health measures brought in to combat the Omicron variant.

Exports of services rose 2.9 per cent in November to $11.7-billion. Services trade, which includes tourism, rebounded over the second half of 2021 but remains well below prepandemic levels.

Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Omar Abdelrahman said in a note to clients that Canada will likely see “some volatility” in international trade in the coming months.

“Continued strength in manufacturing sentiment south of the border, alongside robust commodity prices and demand, bode well for exports,” he wrote.

“However, the global Omicron wave may prolong supply chain pressures during the first quarter this year as consumers reorient spending back towards goods. In addition, concerns relating to labour shortages (partly due to a potential increase in employees requiring isolation) may present another bottleneck in the near-term for international trade.”

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