Canada and the U.S. release trade data this week.
The numbers promise to be impressive, especially for Canada.
But don't be fooled: Canada's status as a leading trading nation is in trouble.
America's gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent in the second quarter, matching the fastest pace since 2006. That's good for its largest trading partner.
Canada shipped the greatest volume of goods on record in July. Trade may have slipped from those levels last month, but still should be strong. Royal Bank of Canada estimates that Canada recorded a trade surplus of $1.5-billion in August compared with $2.6-billion in July.
It's about time.
The Bank of Canada has been waiting on trade to contribute to economic growth for years. Policy makers have kept borrowing costs ultra-low in part to urge exporters along. Exports add to gross domestic product because they leave money at home, and imports subtract from it because Canadians send wealth out of the country to pay for them. Bank of Montreal predicts exports will continue to exceed imports through September for an unprecedented eighth consecutive quarter.
But it would be a mistake to interpret the current data as more than the natural pull of U.S. demand on Canadian production. Decades of underinvestment have caught up to Corporate Canada. The country's companies are getting shoved around by hungrier rivals.
Canada's share of total imports has declined in seven of its 10 biggest trading partners since 2000, according to calculations for The Globe and Mail by Export Development Canada. It gained market share in Britain and Mexico and treaded water in the Netherlands.
The most shocking decline is in the United States, where proximity, history and a common language no longer are the advantages they once were. Canadian exports represented 14.7 per cent of U.S. imports in 2013, down from 17.4 per cent in 2003. If this were a hockey game, Don Cherry would be livid: Canada is getting outmuscled in what effectively is its home arena. The loss of market share suggests the boost Canada gets from a resurgent U.S. will be less than in the past.
"We haven't got an efficient enough economy to supply the U.S. with what it needs," said John Curtis, a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and a former chief economist at Canada's Trade Department. "The Canadian business community has to be accountable for some of that."
Mr. Curtis faults Canadian exporters for investing too little in the decades when they enjoyed advantages from a weaker exchange rate and a groundbreaking free-trade agreement with the world's largest economy.
When the Canadian dollar appreciated in the 2000s, Canadian business was caught flat-footed. Others rushed in.
Germany's share of U.S. imports through July this year was 5.2 per cent compared with 4.6 per cent in 2009, according to U.S. Census data. Mexico's market share has increased to 12.5 per cent from 12 per cent over the same period.
Canada is also on track to gain market share in the U.S. this year, but not as much as others. Its share of exports through July was 14.9 per cent compared with 14.5 per cent in 2009, according to U.S. Census data.
Germany made gains in the United States, despite the burden of a strong euro, and Mexico overcame the same clogged borders about which Canadian exporters grumble.
To be sure, those countries have advantages Canada can't match.
Mexican companies benefit from a large pool of cheaper labour, and German manufacturers reduce their costs by locating factories in Eastern Europe.
The response of Canadian business to tougher international competition largely has been to muddle along as if there were nothing to be done. This is debatable.
There is little Canada can do about its relatively higher labour costs, but these are at least partially offset by favorable tax rates. What is needed is more risk-taking and investment to become more productive.
The oil-and-gas boom in Alberta hasn't spread to the rest of the country, in part because executives in Eastern Canada have carried on with their old business models, rather than come up with new strategies to take advantage of all the money rushing into the west.
"We haven't succeeded in keeping pace," Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz told The Globe and Mail in an interview last month.
"The world is telling us that our energy is more valuable than it used to be and it's telling us to invest more in that and less in areas that are highly exchange-rate dependent with small margins that get eaten away by it. That's the hard truth."