Overview of Canada's forest industry

Canada's forest industry by the numbers

Forests are a major source of wealth for Canadians, providing a wide range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

In 2013, production in the forest sector contributed $19.8 billion—or 1.25%—to Canada’s real gross domestic product (GDP). In a global context, Canada has the world’s largest forest product trade balance—C$19.3 billion (2013)—a position it has held for as long as trustworthy trade statistics have been compiled. While other countries may produce more of one product or another, no nation derives more net benefit from trade in forest products than Canada, and the gap between Canada and the second largest net trader (Sweden) has been expanding continuously since 2009.

There are three main forest industry subsectors:

Solid wood product manufacturing – Firms in this area engage in both primary (such as softwood lumber and structural panels) and secondary (such as millwork and engineered wood products) manufacturing for domestic consumption and export. This subsector accounted for approximately 44% of the forest sector’s contribution to the Canadian economy (as measured by real GDP) in 2013.

Pulp and paper product manufacturing – Companies in this area produce a wide range of products, covering everything from newsprint and household tissues to dissolving pulp for rayon production. This subsector accounted for approximately 36% of the contribution of the forest sector to the Canadian economy in 2013.

Forestry and logging – Firms in this area are responsible for field operations and harvesting of timber, including felling and hauling it to the mill. In 2013, this sector accounted for 20% of the forest sector’s contribution to the Canadian economy.

Graph data
Table displays the 2013 trade balance for the leading forest product trading nations (in order of decreasing trade balance: Canada, Sweden, Finland, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Chile, Germany, U.S.A., China, and Japan). A positive number indicates that exports are greater than imports, whereas a negative number indicates that imports are greater than exports.
Country Trade balance (C$ billion)
Canada 19.264
Sweden 13.996
Finland 13.347
Brazil 7.396
Indonesia 5.905
Russia 4.821
Chile 4.604
Germany 4.201
USA 0.109
China -11.921
Japan -14.231

Forest sector transformation

Forest product markets are cyclical, experiencing significant ups and downs over the economic cycle. This constant state of shifting circumstances creates both challenges and opportunities. In recent years, Canada’s forest industry has undergone an especially deep cyclical decline, coupled with structural changes in world markets. In particular, the rise of electronic media has resulted in deep decline for paper-based communications products—including several products (such as newsprint) that have traditionally been critical to the Canadian pulp and paper subsector.

In response to these challenges, the forest industry has begun to transform itself along four distinct lines: market development, operational efficiency, business process change and new product development. One of the most exciting elements of this transformation has been the new and innovative products, materials and services being produced in Canada’s forest sector. These include new building materials, biofuels that can substitute for fossil fuels, and biochemicals that can be used to produce bio-based pharmaceuticals, biodegradable plastics, personal care products and industrial chemicals. Chief among these are cellulosic fibrils and nano-crystalline cellulose—next-generation pulp-based products with the potential to revolutionize the pulp and paper sector.

These and other emerging technologies and business processes offer new ways of generating social, economic and environmental values for Canadians from our abundant forest resource. They generate value from a wider range of forest products and processes than traditional milling and pulping. Whether co-located with an existing establishment or a result of a greenfield investment, these new technologies and business processes increase overall industry productivity: additional revenue streams are available from each log harvested, diversifying product lines to stabilize economic performance and boosting the share of renewable products in the marketplace. These new technologies will also create opportunities for new entrants, enhancing competition and entrepreneurialism in the industry.