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Three ‘hard truths’ about Canada’s trade


6 minute read

From the Fraser Institute

Author: Jock Finlayson

In Canada’s case, a small number of sectors reliably generate significant trade surpluses, which help finance large trade deficits incurred in other parts of our economy.

Canada is an “open” economy that depends on cross-border flows of trade, investment and data/knowledge to maintain high living standards. To pay our way in a very competitive world, Canadians must produce and sell goods and services to customers in other countries. These exports furnish the means to pay for the vast array of imports that contribute to the well-being of Canadian households and allow our businesses to operate efficiently and grow by accessing bigger markets.

In 2022, Canada exported $779 billion of goods to other countries, along with $161 billion of services, for a total of $940 billion. The services category includes a wide array of commercial services including professional, scientific, technical, digital and financial, as well as transportation services and international tourism (when non-Canadian visitors travel to spend money here).

About three-quarters of Canada’s exports are destined for a single market—the United States, whose economy has steadily expanded in size over time to reach some US$25 trillion of gross domestic product today. Canada also sources the bulk of our imports from the U.S.

The centrality of the American market to Canada’s economic prosperity is the first “hard truth” about Canada’s trade, a point explored in a recent paper by Steve Globerman. Despite periodic efforts to diversify Canada’s trade and commercial links over the last 50 years, Canada remains as closely tied to the American economy today as we were in the 1990s. There’s little reason to believe the Trudeau government’s recently unveiled “Indo-Pacific” strategy will change the situation. Proximity, a common language and business culture, and the impact of extensive and unusually deep business and personal ties all serve to reinforce the American-centric character of Canada’s trade. It follows that the U.S. should continue to figure prominently in the trade promotion and investment attraction activities of Canadian governments.

A second “hard truth” about Canada’s trade is the outsized place of natural resource-based products in the export mix. The first table below breaks down Canada’s goods and services exports in 2022 into the main groupings.

Table 1

Added together, energy, non-metallic minerals and related products, metal ores, forest products and agri-food comprise almost half of the country’s total international exports of goods and services combined. Energy alone supplied 27 per cent of Canada’s merchandise exports (and 23 per cent of total exports) last year, generating a remarkable $212 billion in export-driven income for Canadian businesses, workers and governments.

Within the energy basket, oil and oil-based products dominate, providing about three-quarters of energy-based export revenues. Contrary to innumerable speeches and press releases issued by the current federal government, the energy share is likely to rise in the next several years, as LNG production from British Columbia comes on-line and Western Canadian oil exports increase following the completion of pipeline expansion projects.

The final “hard truth” is closely related to the second but carries a more nuanced message. Ultimately, every country will have a ledger showing the trade surpluses and trade deficits across its various industries. In Canada’s case, a small number of sectors reliably generate significant trade surpluses, which help finance large trade deficits incurred in other parts of our economy.

The second table provides a snapshot of Canada’s trade “balances”—the mix of deficits and surpluses by broad industry category.

Table 2

The story is a fairly simple one; positive trade balances in the energy, mining, forestry and agri-food sectors offset chronic—and in some cases very sizable—trade deficits in consumer goods, chemicals and plastics, motor vehicles/parts, and industrial and electronic goods. We also run a smallish deficit in our overall services trade.

The trade data are informative. Among other things, they tell us where Canada has, in the language of economists, a “comparative advantage” in the global context. For a market-based economy, a pattern of positive trade balances is evidence that it very likely enjoys a comparative advantage in the industries which report consistent trade surpluses. Armed with such information, smart policymakers should strive to create and sustain an attractive business and investment climate for the industries that produce trade surpluses. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that today’s federal government in distant Ottawa has struggled to digest.

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Carbon tax costs Canadian economy billions

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From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Author: Franco Terrazzano 

This tax costs Canadians big time at the gas pump, on home heating bills, on the farm and at the dinner table.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling on the federal government to scrap the carbon tax in light of newly released government data showing the tax will cost the Canadian economy about $25 billion in 2030.

“Once again, we see the government’s own data showing what hardworking Canadians already know: the carbon tax costs Canada big time,” said Franco Terrazzano, CTF Federal Director. “The carbon tax makes the necessities of life more expensive and it will cost our economy billions of dollars.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must scrap his carbon tax now.”

The government of Canada released modelling showing the cost of the carbon tax on the Canadian economy Thursday.

“The country’s GDP is expected to be about $25 billion lower in 2030 due to carbon pricing than it would be otherwise,”  reports the Globe and Mail.

Canada contributes about 1.5 per cent of global emissions.

Government data shows emissions are going up in Canada. In 2022, the latest year of data, emissions in Canada were 708 megatonnes of CO2, an increase of 9.3 megatonnes from 2021.

The federal carbon tax currently costs 17 cents per litre of gasoline, 21 cents per litre of diesel and 15 cents per cubic metre of natural gas.

The carbon tax adds about $13 to the cost of filling up a minivan, about $20 to the cost of filling up a pickup truck and about $200 to the cost of filling up a big rig truck with diesel.

Farmers are charged the carbon tax for heating their barns and drying grains with natural gas and propane. The carbon tax will cost Canadian farmers $1 billion by 2030, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

“No matter how many times this government tries to put lipstick on the carbon tax pig, the reality is clear,” said Kris Sims, CTF Alberta Director. “This tax costs Canadians big time at the gas pump, on home heating bills, on the farm and at the dinner table. Trudeau should make life more affordable and improve the Canadian economy by scrapping his carbon tax.”

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New York and Vermont Seek to Impose a Retroactive Climate Tax

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From Heartland Daily News

By Joshua Loucks for the Cato Institute.

Energy producers will be subject to retroactive taxes in New York if the state assembly passes Senate Bill S2129A, known as the “Climate Change Superfund Act.” The superfund legislation seeks to impose a retroactive tax on energy companies that have emitted greenhouse gases (GHGs) and operated within the state over the last seventy years.

If passed, the new law will impose $75 billion in repayment fees for “historical polluters,” who lawmakers assert are primarily responsible for climate change damages within the state. The state will “assign liability to and require compensation from companies commensurate with their emissions” over the last “70 years or more.” The bill would establish a standard of strict liability, stating that “companies are required to pay into the fund because the use of their products caused the pollution. No finding of wrongdoing is required.”

New York is not alone in this effort. Superfunds built on retroactive taxes on GHG emissions are becoming increasingly popular. Vermont recently enacted similar legislation, S.259 (Act 122), titled the “Climate Superfund Act,” in which the state also retroactively taxes energy producers for historic emissions. Similar bills have also been introduced in Maryland and Massachusetts.

Climate superfund legislation seems to have one purpose: to raise revenue by taxing a politically unpopular industry. Under the New York law, fossil fuel‐​producing energy companies would be taxed billions of dollars retroactively for engaging in legal and necessary behavior. For example, the seventy‐​year retroactive tax would conceivably apply to any company—going back to 1954—that used fossil fuels to generate electricity or produced fuel for New York drivers.

The typical “economic efficiency” arguments for taxing an externality go out the window with the New York and Vermont approach, for at least two reasons. First, the goal of a blackboard or textbook approach to a carbon tax is to internalize the GHG externality. To apply such a tax accurately, the government would need to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC).

Unfortunately, estimating the SCC is methodologically complex and open to wide ranges of estimates. As a result, the SCC is theoretically very useful but practically impossible to calculate with any reasonable degree of precision.

Second, the retroactive nature of these climate superfunds undermines the very incentives a textbook tax on externalities  would promote. A carbon tax’s central feature is that it is intended to reduce externalities from current and future activity by changing incentives. However, by imposing retroactive taxes, the New York and Vermont legislation will not impact emitters’ future behavior in a way that mimics a textbook carbon tax or improves economic outcomes.

Arbitrary and retroactive taxes can, however, raise prices for consumers by increasing policy uncertainty, affecting firm profitability, and reducing investment (or causing investors to flee GHG‐​emitting industries in the state altogether). Residents in both New York and Vermont already pay over 30 percent more than the US average in residential electricity prices, and this legislation will not lower these costs to consumers.

Climate superfunds are not a serious attempt to solve environmental challenges but rather a way to raise government revenue while unfairly punishing an entire industry (one whose actions the New York legislation claims “have been unconscionable, closely reflecting the strategy of denial, deflection, and delay used by the tobacco industry”).

Fossil fuel companies enabled GHG emissions, of course, but they also empowered significant growth, mobility, and prosperity. The punitive nature of the policy is laid bare by the fact that neither New York nor Vermont used a generic SCC or an evidentiary proceeding to calculate precise damages.

Finally, establishing a standard in which “no finding of wrongdoing is required” to levy fines against historical actions that were (and still are) legally permitted sets a dangerous precedent for what governments can do, not only to businesses that have produced fossil fuels but also to individuals who have consumed them.

Cato research associate Joshua Loucks contributed to this post.

Originally published by the Cato Institute. Republished with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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