In December, Canada’s merchandise trade balance experienced an unexpected turn as it recorded its first monthly trade deficit since July. This shift was attributed to a combination of factors, including higher imports of pharmaceutical products and the appreciation of the Canadian dollar. Statistics Canada reported Wednesday in Ottawa that the country posted a $312 million trade deficit in December, a significant reversal from the surplus of $1.1 billion recorded just a month earlier.
Economists had anticipated that exports would exceed imports by $1 billion in December, but the reality proved different. The drop in exports during that month was partly influenced by the increase in the average value of the Canadian dollar by 1.5 U.S. cents compared to November. When the Canadian dollar appreciates against the greenback, the monthly trade values expressed in Canadian dollars tend to be lower, thus impacting trade balances.
It’s important to note that a large proportion of import and export transactions are conducted in U.S. dollars and subsequently converted to Canadian dollars to compile monthly statistics, as indicated by the agency. Despite total exports declining by 1.9 per cent in December and imports increasing by 0.2 per cent, when expressed in U.S. dollars, Canadian exports actually saw a modest uptick of 0.1 per cent, while imports surged by 2.3 per cent.
Among the notable changes in imports, consumer goods experienced a remarkable surge of 9.4 per cent, marking the strongest monthly increase on record for this product category. Imports of pharmaceutical products notably stood out, skyrocketing by 28.1 per cent. This surge was attributed to “atypical high-value imports” from the U.S., as highlighted by the agency. Additionally, notable increases were observed in the import categories of clothing and alcoholic beverages.
In terms of volume, exports saw a slight decline of 0.4 per cent, while imports increased by 1.3 per cent. This indicates that while the actual physical quantity of exports decreased marginally, there was a notable increase in the quantity of goods imported into Canada during December.
Overall, the unexpected trade deficit in December underscores the dynamic nature of international trade and the various factors that can influence trade balances, including currency fluctuations and shifts in import patterns. As Canada navigates the evolving landscape of global trade, monitoring and understanding these trends will remain essential for policymakers and businesses alike.