A New Cool Tool for Canadian Trade

Drowning in data is easy to do in our digital world. Technology has created the ability and the appetite for creating ever-increasing volumes of data. The exponential increase in global trade over the past 30 years has put pressure on statistical agencies to probe ever deeper into the details of import and export movements. Canada is no exception; as a nation with a much higher-than-average dependence on international trade, we have invested heavily in trade-related statistics. For the lay person and analyst alike, the deluge of data can be daunting. How do we sort through it all, and make sense out of it?

Canadian exporters have spoken out on this issue. Our analysis indicates that in spite of the free availability of raw information, there is a need for the packaging and cogent analysis of the myriad figures long before actual trade activity will occur. This is even more the case when Canadian enterprises decide to venture beyond our traditional trade space. Let’s face it, for a trading nation, we do the bulk of our transactions with a market that, far more than any other, is just like our own. Venturing out to a place with a different culture, language, customs, laws, and other less-identifiable differences hasn’t really been our cup of tea…until recently. Back in 2000, merchandise that we shipped to emerging markets was just 5 per cent of total exports. But by 2008, that number had more than doubled, to 12 per cent. Recession might have changed all that, but instead, by 2013 the share was up further, to 15 per cent. Rapid growth in emerging markets suggests that the share will continue to head up. And with it, the need for clear information on the ins and outs of faraway places.

In response to this need, Export Development Canada is making some key changes to our approach to Canadian exporters. We are in the process of developing a battery of knowledge products that we believe will help Canadian exporters to go, grow and succeed in the international marketplace.

Well, here’s one you can try out right away. Twice a year, EDC produces a Global Export Forecast – I’m currently in the middle of a 13-city tour with our most recent outlook – and we used to produce a hefty publication to go along with it. Although it had one-page pull-outs on a range of topics, regions and industries, it was a daunting tome. In its place we now have a web-based tool (click here) that we believe is much easier to use, and a whole lot more fun.

The home page has a menu at the top with a drop-down list of 29 industry sectors, including services. One click on your industry of choice opens up a single page that is easy on the eyes, but loaded with interesting information. On the left-hand side is a short description of the outlook. Below that, the export forecast for the industry over the next two years, and also broken down by developed and emerging markets. Below that, a provincial distribution of exports to all international destinations.

Now for the coolest part: on the right-hand side of the page is a map of the world. Move the cursor onto the map, and over a particular country, and you see Canadian exports to that country for the last full year of available data (currently 2016). It gets better. Now click on the country, and you’ll find beneath that map a visual representation, complete with data, of the distribution of international sales to that destination by product in the sector. The number of countries covered depends on what Statistics Canada publishes. If they have it, then it’s on the map.

Often where curious businesses start looking for international opportunities is the basic data itself. This packages it up in a way that allows for a very quick sense of where the activity is, and how it is doing, at least in the near term. Is it growing, stagnant or in decline? Is it doing different things in developed markets than in the emerging world? Are there particular products that are selling well in various locations? This is meant to give you an instant – and authoritative – snapshot of the 35,000-foot view, and we welcome you to try it out.

The bottom line?

Data can be confusing at best, and at worst, if mishandled, can lead to very costly international trade decisions. This tool cuts through a lot of clutter, and answers a lot of basic exporting questions at the click of a mouse. We hope you enjoy not only test-driving it, but adding it to your trade toolkit.

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