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Ready to export? A look at Canada’s prepared or preserved vegetables and pulses

  • Nov 17, 2020
  • 2.5 min read

Canada has long been a major exporter of both agricultural commodities and food. Yet Canada’s position in global food exports indicates opportunity for growth. In 2019, Canada ranked 5th among global commodity exporters and 11th in food.

Diversifying export markets is critical to grow exports and mitigate risks. In 2019, 78.5% of Canada’s food exports went to the U.S., and 77.3% of export growth since 2015 has been to the U.S.

In our latest trade report, Trade Rankings 2020: Opportunities and challenges to diversify Canada’s food exports, we outline export diversification potential for canola oil, prepared or preserved pork, potato products, prepared crab, and prepared or preserved beef. Here’s an example of the analysis you’ll find for prepared or preserved vegetable and pulse exports.

Canadian exports of prepared/preserved vegetables and pulses flow to the U.S.

Global exports of prepared or preserved vegetables and pulses totalled US$14.3 billion in 2019, with the majority being for products Canada may not have an advantage in (e.g. olives and bamboo). However, Canada does have a competitive advantage in the pulse market. Canada’s exports were US$83.5 million in 2019, and clear preferences lay with exporting the raw commodities. Export dependency with the U.S. also grew from 73.4% in 2009 to 94.5% in 2019.

Potential export opportunities are plentiful for growth and diversification (Figure 1). Only the U.S. can be considered a preferred market given 2019 trade patterns. Canada has free-trade agreements with many of the largest and fastest-growing importers in the world: Japan (CPTPP), European nations (CETA), and South Korea (CKFTA).

The size of the U.S. market relative to the amount of Canadian exports should not be ignored. Until demand for Canadian products is met in North America, diversification may have to wait.

Figure 1: World top importers, fastest-growing markets, and markets that preferred Canadian canned vegetables and pulses in 2019

 Chart showing world top importers, fastest-growing markets, and markets that preferred Canadian canned vegetables and pulses in 2019.

Source: UN Comtrade, accessed September 2020

The bottom line

Diversification is desirable from a risk management perspective, but economic arguments also run against efforts to diversify:

  1. Selling into one or two markets provides economies of scale: It might be cheaper to maintain and develop existing markets than establishing an export presence in a new market.
  2. Input and manufacturing costs play an important role: Price-sensitive markets can offer limited potential, especially for higher-quality Canadian products.
  3. There exist non-tariff trade barriers preventing diversification: Regulations can prevent market access for Canadian manufacturers.
  4. A slower pace of economic expansion worldwide can mean more timid food demand: The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of a robust food supply chain and economic consequences for some countries may last years. 

Further diversification is possible and offers advantages.  Diversification allows export flows to continue when trade partners become unavailable.

As the world’s population expands and incomes grow, demand for food climbs, creating opportunities for Canada to increase exports. Higher purchasing power in non-traditional markets and new trade agreements generate possibilities to diversify exports away from conventional destinations.


Kyle Burak
Senior Agricultural Economist

Kyle joined FCC in 2020 as a Senior Agricultural Economist, specializing in monitoring and analyzing FCC’s agri-food and agri-business portfolio, industry health, and providing industry risk analysis. Prior to FCC, he worked in the procurement and marketing department of a Canadian food retailer. He holds a Master of Economics from the University of Victoria.