Chinese growth has tremendous impact on Canadian trade patterns

by Canadian Shipper

China’s red-hot economy, now the second largest in the world after the United States, has had a significant impact on Canada’s trade patterns during the past five years, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

On the import side, China has become Canada’s second largest source of imported goods from any single country apart from the United States. China has surpassed Japan and Mexico as a source of imports for both Canada and the United States.

On the export side, China’s appetite for raw materials to build new factories, office towers and apartment buildings has led to a surge in commodity exports and a boom in commodity prices for Canadian companies.

Between 1995 and 2003, Canada’s exports to China rose 37.4%. During the same period, our imports from China quadrupled, according to the report, Canada’s Trade with China. The report is the seventh paper from the Insights on the Canadian economy series.

In 1995, Canada’s trade deficit with China was barely $1.2 billion. By 2003, it had exploded to nearly $13.8 billion.
China’s export sector represents about one-quarter of its GDP, five times more than in 1978 when economic reform began to progressively open the nation up to the rest of the world. In terms of imports, China rose three places in the World Trade Organization’s ranking in 2003 alone to become the world’s third largest importer, with 5.3% of global commerce.

Goods from China represented almost 6% of Canada’s imports in 2003, (and 16% of all non-US demand) compared with only 2% in 1995. All 21 major commodity groups contributed to this increase.

In comparison, Canada’s imports from Mexico in 2003 had slipped to just 66% of those from China, partly as the absolute level of imports from Mexico has leveled off since 2000. On the other hand, imports from China have soared.

Early in 2004, imports of Chinese capital goods passed consumer goods for the first time ever, despite falling prices for most capital goods. Electronic equipment and mechanical machinery led the way among capital goods.
Capital goods accounted for 44.8% of all imports from China in 2004, more than double the proportion of nearly 20% in 1993. Meanwhile, the share of consumer goods from China declined from 65% in 1993 to 40%. Toys dominate the consumer goods category.

The rest of Canada’s imports are spread among five other groups, the proportion of which changed little during the 1990s: industrial goods, agricultural products, automobiles, forestry products and energy.

Canada’s bill for imports from China has also risen because of the drop in our exchange rate over the last decade. China maintains a fixed exchange rate against the US dollar, and the depreciation of the Canadian dollar before 2003 would have raised import prices.

At the same time, Canada has turned to markets that produce at a lower cost. For example, in 2003, around 50% of Canada’s imports of footwear came from China, as did more than 40% of our leather imports.

Canadian exports to China are driven by resource products which, year in and year out, account for about four-fifths of our shipments to China.

Up until the early 1990s, wheat dominated shipments to China, accounting for 60% of shipments in 1992. Since then, the share of wheat has slipped to just 10%. On the other hand, Canada’s shipments of chemical products and fertilizer have increased, benefiting in part from China’s shift from importing wheat to growing its own grain.
The place of wheat has been supplanted by rapid gains for industrial materials, which account for 45% of exports, and 24% of forestry products. Exports remain much smaller for automobiles, energy and consumer goods.
Canada’s exports of industrial materials accelerated with the surge of Chinese growth in the second half of the 1990s. Metals led the way, rising to nearly 16% of shipments to China at the start of 2004. Iron and steel accounted for 6% and nickel, 4%.

Exports of forestry products have increased rapidly. In 1992, they accounted for only 10% of resource shipments to China; now they have reached one-third. China is the largest importer of pulp in the world, and Canada its largest supplier.

Pulp alone accounted for nearly one-fifth of all our exports to China in 2003. The increase would have been even more spectacular if prices had maintained their 1995 level instead of falling 40% between 1995 and 1997, and staying around that level ever since.

Overall, China’s appetite for raw materials has risen so fast in recent years that, along with leading the world in pulp imports, it now stands behind only Japan and the United States as a market for wood and is second only to the United States for iron and steel and crude oil.

Demand in China has been a major factor behind a recent boom in commodity prices, especially prices for metals and fats and oils, which have increased 54.0% and 28.8% over the course of the year that ended in May 2004. Canada, as a large net exporter of resources, has benefited form this surge in demand.

Canada’s Trade with China, no. 7 (11-624-MIE2004007, free) is now available online. From Statistics Canada’s products and services page, under Browse our Internet publications, choose Free, then National accounts.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Francine Roy (613-951-3627), Current Economic Analysis.

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