More than half of Canadian small- and medium- sized businesses are involved in international trade, either directly (36%) or indirectly (15%), but their trading potential remains relatively untapped, with 49% identifying lack of resources, information or contacts as key reasons for not trading. These are among the main findings of a report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“The Canadian small business sector is both vast and diverse, encompassing everything from the service industry to high-tech manufacturers and programmers. The fact that over half of this sector is involved in trade is remarkable,” said CFIB president Catherine Swift. “What is even more exciting though, is the opportunity represented by businesses on the cusp of trading, that currently lack the knowledge, resources or contacts to do so.”

Expanding into new markets, both inter-provincial and international, involves assuming higher risks and higher costs for small business owners. Helping entrepreneurs navigate such issues as intense competition, protectionist measures, complex multi-national regulatory and fiscal burdens, availability and affordability of financing, and of insurance, and adapting to new logistical and cultural environments are an important part of the mandates of the federal and provincial organizations aiming to encourage trade. However, around 80% of small trading firms do not use the services offered by several government entities, while the rare ones who do have expressed mixed opinions on their value.

Swift stated that this report provides business owners with a tool kit to face the various challenges and offers government policy directions to enhance and promote existing trade assistance programs. By pursuing policy options with a small business focus, such as working to reduce the burden of regulation, planning infrastructure development, increasing competition in both the financial and insurance sectors, and renewing efforts to facilitate inter-provincial commerce, government can play a key role in getting more small firms interested to trade. Such an investment is good business to enhance Canada’s economic performance, since SMEs that trade are relatively more optimistic about their future than non-trading firms.

The study also helps to profile the trading small business. Results show trade is most prevalent in the manufacturing, wholesale, agriculture, primary, transport and communications sectors and that firm age is not a factor, as close to 20% of firms that were in business for one year already exported part of their production.

“Over the past decade Canada’s trade volume has grown rapidly and the Canadian small business sector has emerged as the driving force behind economic growth and job creation. The best thing the government can do to facilitate economic growth and prosperity is to address the obstacles and challenges faced by entrepreneurs seeking to buy and/or sell Canadian products and services in foreign markets,” concluded Swift.

The CFIB survey was designed to gauge trade activity and attitudes within the small-and medium-sized business sector, and drew responses from 9,577 Canadian entrepreneurs. A copy can be found at