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U.S. still our trading giant, but exporters going global

The container port at Delta, B.C. Exports to Britain and China grew 400 per cent from 2002 to 2011 to record levels. The two countries have also overtaken Japan to become the No. 2 and No. 3 destinations.

lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

On one level, Canada's reliance on exports to the U.S. is as great as ever.

The value of U.S.-bound exports grew by more than 10 per cent last year to $330.1-billion, led by sharply higher crude oil sales, according to Statistics Canada's annual review of Canadian merchandise trade released Wednesday.

That's roughly equal to what Americans bought a decade ago.

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But the figures don't tell the full story because global trade is growing and Canada is shipping much more to the rest of the world.

Exports to Britain and China grew more than 300 per cent from 2002 to 2011 to record levels. The two countries have also overtaken Japan to become the No. 2 and No. 3 destinations. Britain now accounts for 4.2 per cent of Canadian exports, up from 1.1 per cent in 2002. China's share is 3.8 per cent, up from 1 per cent.

The U.S. share of exports was 73.7 per cent last year, down sharply from 87.1 per cent in 2002.

Part of the explanation for the dramatic shift is the loonie, which has surged to parity with the U.S. dollar from less than 70 cents over that period.

Canada's trade profile also reflects the rapid growth of the rest of the world. The main exports to Britain (precious metals and alloys) and China (wood pulp and iron ore) are the sorts of commodities that economies need to grow.

Canadians are also buying less from the U.S., whose share of imports fell below 50 per cent for the first time in decades last year, down from 62.6 per cent in 2002.

And while imports from the U.S. have been flat since 2002, imports from China more than doubled.

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China's share of imports has grown to 10.8 per cent from less than 5 per cent over the same period, predictably paced by computers, cellphones and other electronics. China has ranked as Canada's No. 2 source of imports for the past decade.

Imports from China rose 8.1 per cent last year to $48.2-billion.

The other significant change on the import side is the rise of Mexico, which has surged passed Japan since the North American free trade deal. Imports nearly doubled from 2002 to 2011, to $24.6-billion from $12.7-billion.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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