For the past seven years, Canada has been a net importer of bu 156 Lake Bend Road, Bridgwater Lakes ilding products and materials. Prior to that, a healthy U.S. market ensured a solid demand for our raw and manufactured materials — Canadian exports were a valuable resource south of the border and throughout the world.
However, when the housing crash took place, exports of Canadian building products fell by more than 40 per cent between 2007 and 2009. Although there has been a gradual increase of about two per cent per year, it’s not enough to get back to where we were. The Canadian housing market did not fall nearly as dramatically as the U.S. market and also rebounded considerably faster, so our demand for building products has grown accordingly. As recently as 2012, we spent twice as much on imports as we brought in from exports.
That trend slowed a bit last year, largely due to a slowdown in housing starts in some larger Canadian urban centres. However, things look brighter for the immediate future, and it’s not because of reduction, but rather growth.
American housing starts are projected to continue to climb in 2014, increasing demand for Canadian building products and boosting our export market. Recent trends indicate that wood, petrochemical and asphalt products are experiencing the largest growth. Exports of masonry, electrical and paint products are growing more modestly, but they are still increasing. These are offset in part by declines in steel, tools and machinery. In that the Canadian manufacturing sector is closely tied to the U.S. economy for exports, a recovery in their housing market is good news north of the border.
If there is one lesson to be learned from this, it’s that we must continue to diversify, both in terms of exports and imports. When the United States stopped buying, Canada stopped producing in some sectors and that hurt our economy.
Similarly, we were too heavily reliant upon our American neighbours for imports of building materials. When they stopped buying their own products, they stopped manufacturing, and we were forced to look elsewhere. Canada has gone from a 75-per-cent U.S. dependency for imported building products 15 years ago to less than 60 per cent today. China has been the largest beneficiary of this shift.
Canada must be mindful to ensure that we have a balanced or even positive import-export ratio with China and other countries to ensure the health of our producers.
Mike Moore is president of the Manitoba Homebuilders’ Association.