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Mineral Trade

Information Bulletin

(Published in July 2021)

Canada is a trading nation and its minerals and metals sector (or “minerals sector”) is an important contributor to its success, supplying ores, concentrates, and semi-fabricated and fabricated metal and mineral productsFootnote 1 to over 100 countries.

Find out how Canada’s mineral trade is performing:

Overview

Trade by stage of processing

Canada’s principal mineral trading partners

Trade by commodity

Trade by province and territory

Tables

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restriction measures had significant impacts on global trade in 2020, and Canada’s merchandise exports declined by 12% compared to the previous yearFootnote 1.

In 2020, the value of Canada’s minerals and metals sector exportsFootnote 2 also declined, but to a lesser extent of 3%, to $102.3 billion. The lower decline for mineral products resulted in the sector accounting for an even greater proportion of Canada’s total merchandise exports, which reached 21% in 2020 compared to 19% in 2019.

Figure 1: Canadian mineral and metal exports as a percentage of total merchandise exports, 2020

Figure 1: Mineral exports, imports and balance of trade, 2008–17
Data table — Figure 1
Canadian mineral and metal exports as a percentage of total merchandise exports, 2020
Sector Exports
Mineral and metal exports 102.3
Metals 83.1
Non-metals 14.3
Coal 4.9
Other exports 375.9
Total merchandise exports 478.3

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.
B = billion.

 

 

Strong mineral and metal prices helped to support the value of exports in 2020. This is especially true for gold, which is Canada’s top mineral export and accounts for almost a quarter of the total value. Gold prices reached record levels of over US$2,000 per ounce in 2020, as investors flocked to the metal as a safe haven during a period of significant economic turmoil and uncertainty. The price of gold has since subsided, but remains at historically high levels.

In 2020, the price of most minerals and metals initially plunged with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated response measures, which constrained global consumption. However, prices later recovered and surpassed pre-pandemic levels, as demand initially returned to China, the largest global consumer of many minerals and metals, and pandemic-induced production constraints plagued parts of global supply.

The value of mineral imports increased slightly by 2% to $91.1 billion in 2020, representing 17% of Canada’s total merchandise imports.

Canada maintains a healthy positive trade balance for mineral and metals. However, the combination of declining exports and increasing imports in 2020 caused Canada’s mineral trade balance to decline by 25% to $15.2 billion, its lowest level since 2016.

Figure 2: Mineral and metal trade, 2011–20

Figure 2: Mineral and metal trade, 2011–2020
Data table — Figure 2
Figure 2: Mineral and metal trade ($ billions), 2011–2020
Year Domestic exports Total exports Total imports Balance of trade
2011 95.9 77.1 100.2 23.2
2012 88.1 77.0 91.1 14.1
2013 86.9 75.0 90.0 15.0
2014 89.6 81.7 93.3 11.6
2015 92.0 83.2 96.2 13.0
2016 88.7 79.5 92.9 13.4
2017 97.4 84.4 101.3 16.9
2018 104.3 90.2 108.1 17.9
2019 106.0 89.4 109.7 20.3
2020 102.3 91.1 106.3 15.2

Note: Domestic exports are displayed in Figure 2. However, total exports (including re-exports) are used to calculate the balance of trade.
Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.

 

Trade by stage of processing

Mineral products are classified into four stages of processing:

Stage I (primary products) - includes metal scrap and products from the mining industry such as ores and concentrates

Stage 2 (smelting and refining products) - includes products from metallurgical processes, which are relatively pure minerals, metals and alloys

Stage 3 (semi-fabricated products) - includes semi-fabricated products that are inputs in other industries, such as wire, sheets, strips, tubes and flat rolls

Stage 4 (fabricated products) - includes further processed products and final goods, such as metal structures and framing, hardware items, tools, cutlery and pipefittings

As shown in Figure 3, Canada exports a much larger value of mineral products for stage 1 and stage 2 products than what it imports. On the other hand, Canada imports a higher value of mineral products for stage 3 and stage 4 products than what it exports. The result is a positive trade balance for stages 1 and 2 products and a negative trade balance for stages 3 and 4 products. This reflects Canada’s significant geological endowment and strength in the upstream mining and mineral processing industries, but lower downstream manufacturing capacity.

In 2020, the trade balance for stage 1 and stage 2 products decreased by 11% to $22.3 billion and by 23% to $19.4 billion respectively. For both stages, the change was due to a combination of higher imports and lower exports between the two periods.

Imports of stage 3 mineral products remained relatively stable in 2020, but a decline in exports resulted in a lower trade balance, down by 11% compared to the previous year to -$6.6 billion. Stage 4 mineral products experienced lower imports and stable exports, which resulted in an 18% increase of the trade balance, to -$19.7 billion.

Figure 3: Mineral and metal trade by stage, 2020

Figure 3: Mineral and metal trade by stage, 2020
Data table — Figure 3
Figure 3: Mineral and metal trade by stage ($ billions), 2020
Stage Domestic exports Total exports Total imports Balance of trade
Stage 1 - Primary products 32.2 32.2 10.1 22.1
Stage 2 - Smelting and refining products 38.9 39.1 19.7 19.4
Stage 3 - Semi-fabricated products 14.9 16.6 23.2 -6.6
Stage 4 - Fabricated products 16.1 18.3 38.0 -19.7
Total minerals and metals 102.0 106.3 91.1 15.2

Note: Domestic exports are displayed in Figure 3. However, total exports (including re-exports) are used to calculate the balance of trade.

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.

 

Canada’s principal mineral trading partners

The United States continued to be Canada’s principal trading partner for mineral commodities, accounting for 45% of imports and 51% of exports in 2020. The United Kingdom (16%), China (6%), Japan (4%) and South Korea (3%) were the next most important destinations for Canada’s mineral exports. Together, these five countries accounted for 79% of Canada’s mineral exports.

Figure 4: Canada’s mineral exports by country, 2020

Figure 4: Canada’s mineral exports by country, 2020
Text version — Figure 4

This pie chart shows the United States as the leading destination for Canada’s mineral exports, accounting for 51% of the total, followed by the United Kingdom (16%), China (6%), Japan (4%), South Korea (3%), Germany (2%), India (2%), Norway (2%), Netherlands (2%), Belgium (1%) and other countries (11%).

 

 

Find out more about Canada’s top three mineral and metal export markets for 2020:

United States
  • In 2020, bilateral mineral trade between Canada and the United States was valued at $95.6 billion, a 1% decrease compared to the previous year.
  • Canada maintained a positive trade balance for minerals and metals with the United States, which was $13.6 billion in 2020.
  • The value of mineral exports to the United States remained stable at $52.1 billion in 2020, 1% lower than the previous year.
    • The value of mineral exports was split between lower processed stage 1 and stage 2 products (48%) and further processed stage 3 and stage 4 products (52%).
    • The top exports were:
      • Iron and steel ($11.4 billion or 22% of the total)
      • Aluminum ($9.4 billion or 18% of the total)
      • Gold ($5.6 billion or 11% of the total)
    • Canada is also an important supplier of critical minerals to the United States, including for commodities such as potash, tellurium, niobium and uranium. 
  • In 2020, Canada’s mineral imports from the United States declined by 2% to $41.0 billion.
    • Stage 1 and stage 2 products accounted for 27% of the imports, while stage 3 and stage 4 products accounted for the bulk of the imports, at 73%.
    • The top imports were:
      • Iron and steel ($11.0 billion or 27% of the total)
      • Gold ($4.6 billion or 11% of the total)
      • Aluminum ($3.0 billion or 7% of the total)
United Kingdom
  • Bilateral mineral trade between Canada and the United Kingdom reached $17.7 billion in 2020, up by 10% compared to the previous year.
  • Canada has a large positive trade balance for minerals and metals with the United Kingdom, which reached $14.8 billion in 2020.
  • Canada’s mineral and metal exports to the United Kingdom increased by 6% to $16.1 billion in 2020.
    • Gold ($15.2 billion) was the leading export, accounting for 95% of the value of mineral exports, followed by iron ore ($376.8 million or 2% of the total) and nickel ($167.4 million or 1% of the total).
    • Gold accounted for 79% of Canada’s total merchandise exports value of $19.4 billion to the United Kingdom in 2020. Canada sold 6.5 million ounces of gold to the United Kingdom, accounting for 70% of Canada’s gold exports. Gold flows to the United Kingdom in part because of its role as financial hub for global gold trade, as international investors purchase and sell gold on the London Bullion Market Association.
  • In 2020, Canada’s mineral imports from the United Kingdom surged 81% to $1.5 billion.
    • The increase was largely attributable to silver, Canada’s principal mineral import from the United Kingdom, which accounted for 41% of total mineral imports.
China
  • China is one of the largest global producers and consumers of many minerals and metals.
  • In 2020, bilateral mineral trade between Canada and China was valued at $16.4 billion, an amount that was consistent with 2019.
  • In 2020, Canada had a negative trade balance for minerals and metals of -$3.2 billion with China.
  • The value of mineral exports to China increased by 11% to $6.6 billion in 2020.
    • Mineral exports to China are predominantly stage 1, which accounted for 87% of the value in 2020.
    • The top exports were:
      • Iron ore ($2.8 billion or 43% of the total)
      • Copper ($1.0 billion or 16% of the total)
      • Coal ($744 million or 11% of the total)
  • In 2020, Canada’s mineral imports from China declined by 6% to $9.8 billion.
    • Mineral imports from China were predominantly stage 4 fabricated goods, which accounted for 78% of the value in 2020.
    • The top imports were:
      • Iron and steel ($3.1 billion or 32% of the total)
      • Aluminum ($1.0 billion or 10% of the total)
      • Glass ($711 million or 7% of the total)

Trade by commodity

In 2020, metals were the only commodity group to register an increase in export value, which increased their share of the total to 81%.

Figure 5: Mineral and metal trade by commodity, 2020

Figure 5: Mineral and metal trade by commodity, 2020
Data Table — Figure 5
Figure 5: Mineral and metal trade by commodity, 2020
Commodity 2020
Metals           83,136.6
Gold           23,588.7
Iron and steel           12,985.5
Aluminum           11,114.2
Iron ore              7,648.4
Copper              7,278.2
Nickel              3,858.3
Platinum group metals              2,670.7
Zinc              1,960.0
Silver              1,247.5
Uranium              1,109.3
Other metals              9,675.8
Non-metals           14,308.6
Potash              6,052.8
Diamonds              1,377.4
Cement              1,190.7
Salt                 702.4
Other non-metals              4,985.3
Coal              4,890.3
Total         102,335.5

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.

 

Metal products

In 2020, the value of exports of metal products increased by a modest 1% compared to the previous year, to $83.1 billion. However, Canada’s top exported metal commodities experienced mixed results. The value of exports for 2020:

  • Increased for platinum group metals (63%), iron ore (17%), silver (13%), gold (6%) and copper (3%)
  • Decreased for zinc (-15%), iron and steel (-11%) and nickel (-6%)

Gains are generally attributable to higher prices since quantities declined almost across the board.

The value of metal imports increased by 4% to $76.9 billion in 2020. Notable gains were observed for precious metals, including silver (178%), platinum group metals (131%) and gold (61%). Prices were again responsible for most of the gains, although quantities also rose for silver and platinum group metals. The value of imports for almost every other metal commodity recorded declines in 2020 as COVID-19 and the associated containment measures restricted consumption and trade during the year.

Non-metal products

The value of Canada’s exports of non‑metal products decreased by 10% to $14.3 billion in 2020. While most non-metal products experienced declines, the bulk of the decrease can be attributed to diamonds and potash, which are also Canada’s top non-metal exports by value.

The value of diamond exports declined by 38% to $1.4 billion in 2020 and their quantity declined by 11% to 15.8 million carats. The pandemic contributed to exacerbating an already challenging diamonds market and two Canadian mines — Renard in Quebec and Ekati in Northwest Territories — suspended their operations during the year.

The value of potash exports declined by 8% to $6.0 billion in 2020 despite a 9% increase of their quantity to 21.3 million tonnes. This is a reflection of lower potash prices, which have started to trend back up in early 2021. 

A decrease in import value and quantity was recorded for most non-metal commodities, the majority (90%) of which are stage 3 or stage 4 products. The total value of imports of non-metal products declined by 8% to $13.1 billion in 2020.

Coal and coke products

The value of exports of coal and coke products declined by 34% to $4.9 billion in 2020. This can be attributed to metallurgical coal, which is used in the manufacturing of steel and accounted for 85% of the value of exports of coal and coke products and for 93% of the value of coal exports.

Canada exported 31.6 million tonnes of metallurgical coal in 2020, a 9% decline compared to the previous year. Because of weak prices, the value of the metallurgical coal exports declined much more than their quantity, down by 40% to $4.2 billion in 2020.

Imports of coal and coke products experienced a 24% decrease in value to $1.1 billion in 2020. Metallurgical coal accounts for about half of the value of the coal and coke products group and is responsible for the bulk of the decline, with a decrease in value of 20% to $541.1 million in 2020.  

Trade by province and territory

The majority of Canada’s mineral commodity trade flows to and from Ontario and Quebec, as the two provinces respectively accounted for 47% and 24% of exports. Similarly, Ontario accounted for 63% of imports based on the province of clearance and Quebec, for 17%. This is a function of large portions of mine outputs being processed in these jurisdictions before export and of the prevalence of manufacturing industries. It also reflects the importance of these two provinces as key entry points for Canadian mineral commodity imports due to their geographic proximity to large consumer markets.

The value of mineral commodity exports decreased in most provinces between 2019 and 2020, as shown in Figure 6. The most notable declines in percentage terms occurred in the Northwest Territories (-25%), British Columbia (-17%) and Saskatchewan (-12%). In each case, the decline is largely attributable to a single commodity:

  • Lower metallurgical coal exports and prices were largely responsible for the decline in British Columbia. Canada is the fourth largest global exporter of metallurgical coal, 98% of which came from British Columbia.
  • Lower potash prices were the leading contributor to the decline in Saskatchewan. Canada is the global leading producer and exporter of potash, all of which is mined in Saskatchewan.
  • Lower diamond exports and prices were the leading causes of the decline in the Northwest Territories. Canada is the third largest global producer of rough diamonds, most of which comes from mines in the Northwest Territories.

A notable increase in the value of mineral exports was reported for Yukon in 2020, up fivefold compared to the previous year, to $71.6 million. The increase stems from higher copper production at the Minto mine, which restarted its operations in late 2019.

Figure 6: Variation of mineral export values between 2019 and 2020, by province and territory

Figure 6: Variation of mineral export values between 2019 and 2020, by province and territory
Text version — Figure 6

This chart displays the variation of the value of mineral and metal exports between 2019 and 2020, by province and territory. The Yukon experienced the greatest increase at 534%, followed by Prince Edward Island (4%), Nunavut (3%), Quebec (2%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1%). The value remained stable in Manitoba and Ontario and declined in Nova Scotia (-4%), Alberta (-10%), New Brunswick (-11%), Saskatchewan (-12%), British Columbia (-17%) and the Northwest Territories (-25%). The overall value for Canada declined by 3%.

 

 

Mineral commodity exports represented a significant proportion of total exports for many provinces and territories. They accounted for nearly all of the merchandise exports from Canada’s three territories and over one quarter for Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Tables

Table 1: Canada’s mineral exports by country ($ millions), 2020
Country Domestic exports Total exports Total imports Balance of trade
United States 52,076.0 54,582.9 41,031.1 13,551.8
United Kingdom 16,073.7 16,219.1 1,468.5 14,750.6
China 6,526.7 6,586.4 9,772.4 -3,186.0
Japan 3,609.9 3,623.6 1,488.3 2,135.3
South Korea 2,752.9 2,761.0 1,337.9 1,423.1
Germany 2,574.0 3,003.4 2,188.4 814.9
India 2,082.9 2,091.5 1,233.5 858.1
Norway 2,054.5 2,084.8 106.5 1,978.2
Netherlands 1,903.3 2,414.4 443.2 1,971.1
Belgium 1,308.4 1,322.3 488.8 833.5
Switzerland 1,198.5 1,215.6 830.0 385.6
Brazil 1,134.6 1,146.1 4,598.4 -3,452.4
France 944.1 973.2 576.4 396.8
Mexico 876.4 951.3 3,642.7 -2,691.4
Taiwan 689.7 694.1 1,315.9 -621.8
Spain 505.0 511.3 422.9 88.5
Indonesia 446.7 449.8 143.3 306.5
Finland 438.4 441.9 150.6 291.3
Hong Kong 434.0 454.9 181.4 273.5
Italy 361.9 370.7 1,517.8 -1,147.1
Other countries 4,343.9 4,653.3 18,176.5 -13,523.2
Canada 102,335.5 106,551.6 91,114.6 15,437.1

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.

 

Table 2: Canada’s mineral trade by province and territory ($ thousands), 2020
Province and territory Domestic mineral exports Total mineral exports Total mineral imports Total domestic exports Domestic mineral exports as a percentage of the total
Newfoundland and Labrador        3,197,518          3,249,292            114,917      10,416,309 30.7%
Prince Edward Island              22,885                23,282              30,933         1,506,824 1.5%
Nova Scotia            364,421              374,244            444,431         5,213,496 7.0%
New Brunswick            522,770              523,486            468,301      10,301,597 5.1%
Quebec      24,449,546        24,655,650      15,179,946      83,908,587 29.1%
Ontario      48,501,880        52,247,567      57,634,686    187,224,836 25.9%
Manitoba        1,000,666          1,005,854        3,170,949      15,559,120 6.4%
Saskatchewan        6,355,874          6,356,498        1,444,078      30,253,513 21.0%
Alberta        3,332,586          3,451,346        3,568,703      91,407,847 3.6%
British Columbia      12,048,002        12,124,055        9,056,573      39,924,782 30.2%
Yukon              71,606                72,590                1,050               74,951 95.5%
Northwest Territories        1,242,874          1,242,876                         2         1,243,421 100.0%
Nunavut        1,224,892          1,224,899                      16         1,225,688 99.9%
Canada   102,335,520     106,551,638      91,114,585    478,260,969 21.4%

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.

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