Agricultural trade’s sweet spots: How does Canada stack up in the world?

Throughout the month of November, we’ll explore global patterns in agricultural and food trade, and the role Canada plays in that trade. These posts will build on the insights from our recently released trade ranking reports for agriculture and manufactured foodWe examine Canada’s rankings as a world exporter, the commodities in which we have an export advantage, and the opportunities ahead for agriculture and manufactured food exports.


Canadian exporters of agricultural commodities and manufactured foods had a strong year in 2016. Together, these exports were valued at US$43.8 billion, or 4.1% of global ag and food exports. And, as the demand for both raw agricultural commodities and food products continues to grow globally, there’s good reason to be encouraged about the future of Canadian exports. If the world’s trade can be said to have “sweet spots” in the commodities poised for the most optimistic growth, we can see Canada as a leader of six of those opportunities.  

Canadian agricultural exports ranked highly in global trade

In 2016, Canada exported US$24.6 billion worth of agricultural commodities, which placed us 5th in global trade. The top three exporters, US, China, and Netherlands, have held their titles since 2013. In 2016, they exported a combined 29.7% of world agricultural exports.

Canada also exported US$19.1 billion of manufactured food products in 2016, when we held the position of 11th largest exporter of food products globally. The Netherlands, USA and Germany remained the top three exporters, making up 24.9% of total food exports in 2016.

Canada’s exporting sweet spots

The commodities making up Canada’s “sweet spots” fit into three categories in 2016. They counted among the:

  • world’s top 15 highest-dollar exports
  • world’s top 15 fastest-growing exports (accounting for at least 0.5% of global export values in 2016), and
  • Canada’s top 15 highest-dollar exports 

Commodities fitting within all three categories show the most opportunity for growth; they are, in other words, our “sweet spots”. Canadian agricultural commodity sweet spots include pulses, soybeans and fresh fish (Figure 1). Wheat, fish and canola also offer significant opportunities. 

Figure 1: Opportunity lies ahead with three Canadian ag exports

Source: UN Comtrade Data, September 2017

Canadian manufactured food sweet spots include food preparations, malt extract, and coffee (Figure 2). Beef, pork, chocolate and canola oil are some other products that rank high in terms of opportunities.

Figure 2: Coffee, malt and prepared foods on the horizon for Canada’s export success

Source: UN Comtrade Data, September 2017

Canada produces many agricultural commodities and food products counted among the highest-dollar world exports or those that are growing quickly at the global level. This is good news. As household income continues to grow at the global level, it’s changing consumption trends in ways that will allow Canada to benefit. Canadian production and export of vegetable oils, red meat, and plant-based proteins is one example. Canada has an opportunity to strengthen its current ranking of exports with the growing world demand for these products.

For more on Canadian agricultural commodity and food products trade, check out the FCC Ag Economics Trade Ranking Reports.


Amy Carduner
Agricultural Economist

Amy joined the FCC Ag Economics team in 2017 to monitor agricultural trends and identify opportunities and challenges in the sector. Amy grew up on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan and continues to support the family operation. She holds a Master in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan.

@ACarduner