Report: Canada must move away from manufacturing exports, embrace data-driven business exports

According to a report from The Conference Board of Canada, Canada can no longer rely on high commodity prices or traditional manufacturing for future export success and wealth.

It’s an issue that Canadian entrepreneurs have spoken on in the past, and even those in government are working on supporting startups and initiatives that encourage tech to be Canada’s next big export.

“The new global trade landscape raises new challenges for Canada,” said Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist of The Conference Board of Canada. “It will no longer be enough to focus on tariff reductions to position Canada for export success.”

The report said that, with the U.S. economy rebounding, there must be more policies in place that encourage the freer movement of people, services, knowledge, and data. As U.S. consumer demand rebounds, it offers renewed opportunities for sales growth. But to take advantage of these opportunities, Canadian industries must rebuild and invest in their exporting capacity; last year a CIBC report indicated that only 10 percent of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses were involved in global export.

To combat the issue, early in January, the Canadian government dedicated $50 million to helping small businesses explore global export markets.

“Data will be a key asset of the future,” said Danielle Goldfarb, director for the Conference Board’s Global Commerce Centre and co-author of the report. “Policies will need to place much more emphasis on the movement of data, people, services, and investment.”

The report said that digitization has created new types of trade in digital products and services, which is permeating into traditional trade. In the future, manufacturing and engineering companies that rely on IoT sensors will become data companies with large amounts of customer behaviour and logistics data. The report predicted that those who can best leverage international data flows will be best positioned to take full advantage of global markets in the future.